Playing chicken: Planning board ponders livestock ordinance

December 11, 2013
LITTLETON — Last Tuesday evening, the planning board held another public hearing on a proposed livestock ordinance. The idea, which would increase regulation as a means to diminish impacts on abutting properties, will likely be put before voters in March.

Discussion of the ordinance has occurred over several meetings. The hearing last week was the second opportunity for the board to hear public input.

Currently, the zoning ordinance permits raising of crops and livestock in the rural zone, or in commercial and industrial zones with a special exception. Among other changes, the ordinance would, through special exception, allow the keeping of livestock in the R-I, R-Ia, R-2, and multiple use zones.

The regulation would also prohibit small backyard flocks on lots of less than one acre. These flocks could include up to six hens, but no roosters. For small flock enclosures, a setback of at least 50 feet would be required from any lot line.

The board made several revisions to the proposed ordinance last week. Selectmen representative Marghie Seymour was concerned about one sentence that would have regulated how close an animal enclosure could be to the owner's own dwelling. Property owners should be able to control that matter, Seymour suggested. "Let them make their own decisions on how close they want to be," she said.

The board concurred with Seymour's approach. A sentence was removed that proposed a twenty foot distance between a house and any livestock enclosures.

Seymour, who keeps chickens on her property, was also concerned about the proposed rule's prohibition on pasturing of pigs and poultry. The rule only provided for caged poultry for an enclosure, or at least three square feet of shelter. Seymour suggested the animals are better off if given more room.

Additionally, odors could be reduced if pigs and poultry could be pastured. "They smell less when they have more space," Seymour said. Without the possibility of pasturing, she concluded, "You're just begging for a stink."

Again, the board agreed with Seymour's idea. The draft ordinance now provides for four pigs or 25 poultry per acre of pasture.

Revisions were also discussed to make requirements less subjective. Zoning board chairman Eddy Moore said more precise terms than "nuisance" and "noxious odor" was necessary for the public to know how to comply with town rules. Member Bruce Ralston agreed. He said defining the meaning of nuisance was "one big grey area."

The board took action based on Moore and Ralston's concern. A sentence was dropped that would have stated, "Livestock shall be kept such that no nuisance results."

Board consensus proved more difficult when the possibility of agreements between livestock owners and abutters were considered. As the board discussed, some abutters might prefer grazing livestock to the mowing of pastures.

Seymour believed the town should minimally regulate arrangements between neighbors. Moore, however, preferred abutter compliance with the ordinance when animals are permitted to cross lot boundaries. "You can't have an abutter supersede regulations," Moore declared.

Seymour said she would work on some language for the board to consider that would permit agreements between livestock owners and abutters.

The public has another chance to provide comments on the livestock ordinance. The board is set to discuss the subject again on January 7.

Thanks for visiting