Having to attend last night’s city council meeting for other reasons, I got to City Hall early to catch some of the Neighborhood Subcommittee Meeting on the proposed ordinance that would allow ownership of chickens within the city. There were 30 people in the crowd (I couldn’t see if any were in the balcony) but most of the speakers heard from last evening were opposed – strongly opposed – to this proposal. Plenty who supported the ordinance were also present, but the subcommittee was forced to recess the hearing before everyone could speak when the start time for the regular city council meeting arrived. Note the meeting was not adjourned, just recessed, so it will pick up where it left off at some future date.
As I wrote yesterday, I have mixed feelings about this proposal. Allowing ownership of a limited number of chickens is a trend sweeping across urban America so it’s certainly not some irrational, off-the-wall proposal. Common sense tells me that the canine maxim that “there are no bad dogs; just bad dog owners” has a corollary for poultry: “there are no bad chickens; just bad chicken owners.” One of the few chicken proponents who did have a chance to speak last night (I missed his name but will look for video of his remarks and post them when available) made an eloquent and very rational argument for the ordinance. He addressed the fear of disease by pointing out that turtles and rodents that are already legally owned as pets are much greater threats to human health than chickens would be. As for the accumulated waste, he explained that chicken droppings are composted and then used as fertilizer and that, since chickens eat recycled food waste from the household kitchen, they actually decrease the amount of waste that has to be placed in our refuse containers. He continued on in that vein, effectively making his points.
I confess to not knowing much about raising chickens which is why I’d like to learn more about the experience in other cities before forming a final opinion on whether it should be allowed in Lowell. I have owned a succession of dogs for nearly thirty years and so have a sense for what it takes to be a responsible animal owner. It is a lot of work and often a considerable expense, but I find it well worth it. Just as not everyone who owns a dog lives up to the level of responsibility required, I suspect the same would be true for chickens. (It’s probably true for children, too, but that’s a different issue).
There wasn’t a lot that I heard last night from the opponents of this ordinance that I found persuasive. While there was a lot of passion, there was also a lot of broad generalizations that communicated an unwillingness to even have a rational discussion of this issue and that’s too bad. After all, the city’s new Master Plan, recently endorsed by a unanimous vote of the city council, specifically calls for us to “support the creation and adoption of zoning and other policy that will encourage urban agricultural activities.” The draft of this plan which was circulated earlier even had a picture of a chicken to illustrate this point. Sensing the looming controversy, I assume, the city’s Planning Department replaced the chicken photo with one of a vegetable garden in the final version. Regardless, I look forward to the next meeting of the Neighborhood Subcommittee and the continued discussion of this issue.