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Boston resident to contest city rules preventing backyard chickens

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  July 11, 2011 04:28 PM

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(Courtesy: Audra Karp)

Chickens, like these three, are banned from Boston pending an appeal from Roslindale resident Audra Karp.

A Roslindale resident is preparing to challenge city regulations that prevent Bostonians from keeping chickens on their property.

Last spring, Audra Karp began raising three young chickens in the backyard of her Firth Road home. But, this spring, around the time of the first birthday for feathery sisters Yolanda, Roxy and Carmen, Karp said city animal control officials posted a notice on her door telling her the egg-laying trio must go.

The 40-year-old Holliston native will contest the poultry prohibition at a zoning board of appeals hearing Tuesday morning.

“Basically, keeping chickens in the city of Boston is not allowed,” said Lisa Timberlake, spokeswoman for the city’s inspectional services department, which oversees the appeal board comprised of seven members appointed by the mayor to three-year terms.

While residents can request the city’s permission to raise chickens, the permitting process as currently structured eventually reaches a dead end due to a layer of crisscrossing and overlapping ordinances and regulations.

Zoning officials said each appeal brought before them is handled on a case-by-case basis and declined to rule out the unlikely possibility that the appeal board might rule in Karp’s favor. The decision on Karp’s case will be made at the hearing, officials said.

In order to recive full approval to bring back her three exiled chickens, further OKs from other city agencies would also likely be required in addition to winning Tuesday's appeal at City Hall.

Such an appeal request is rare, and the only similar hearing in recent memory was brought forth several years ago by an East Boston resident asking permission to have a bird coop in his yard, zoning officials said. That appeal was denied.

But, Karp remains optimistic about tomorrow’s hearing.

“I know people are telling me it’s probably not going to happen. But I’m still hopeful,” she said by phone Monday.

She said she has collected over 400 signatures, including from 125 people who signed an online petition, supporting her request that chickens be considered pets in Boston, instead of their current designation as livestock, which would make owning chickens legal for Hub dwellers.

Karp said she and at least 10 others will present the petition at Tuesday’s hearing, along with written letters of support from around 40 abutters who live within 300 feet of her.

If she wins the appeal, Karp hopes it will set a precedent for others. If she loses the appeal, she'll continue to ask for the support of city councilors in hopes they can help push Boston's anti-chicken regulations to be amended.

But, no matter the result, she said she’s happy that her campaign, waged in-part on a website, Facebook and Twitter, has thus far raised some awareness, including a story last month in the Boston Bulletin, and started a conversation about urban backyard chicken-raising with fellow community members.

She said concerns around legalizing backyard chickens often center around noise, odor, predators and disease. But, Karp said those concerns are addressed, and additional benefits of owning chickens are raised, through research that has convinced a growing number of cities and towns to allow, and loosen restrictions on, chicken-raising.

She recommended two particular educational resources on backyard chickens, which can be found here and here.

Nearby communities like Brookline, Belmont, Lexington, and Newton permit chickens, but with strict guidelines, the Globe reported last September in a story about a growing popularity in chicken-raising.

Large urban centers like New York City, Oakland, San Francisco, Houston, Chicago, Seattle and Portland, Ore. were all “chicken-friendly” as of 2007, according to The New York Times.

Karp said her family began raising the chickens, which produced between one to three eggs daily on average, because, “Even though we live in the city, it’s important for us to try to raise our own food and know where our food comes from. We’ve lost touch with that in our modern society.”

Her wife Deb Albenberg, 3-year-old daughter Ila and dog Bella also miss their banished beaked friends. The family would let the chickens out of a backyard, predator-protected hen house each morning to be fed.

“They’re really sweet animals and they’re really entertaining,” said Karp explaining why she feels they should be viewed more as pets than livestock. “They each have their own personality.”

Meanwhile, Yolanda, Roxy and Carmen don't seem to have their feathers in a bunch. They're calmly awaiting the hearing’s results from Karp’s father’s large backyard in Ashland.

“As long as they have bugs and foliage to eat, they’re pretty happy,” Karp said.

E-mail Matt Rocheleau at

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