Resident Seeks Variance From ZBA for Chicken Coop

David Burnham has been hoping to give his family a taste of farm life by building a coop in his backyard in order to raise several chickens. Unfortunately, his hopes ran into some complications.

According to Land Zoning Ordinance 2.3.1.4.A, if someone wishes to keep these types of animals on their property, he would need at least two acres of land. However, Burnham has the smallest lot in his neighborhood at only 1.49 acres, as the rest of his property is surrounded by trees.

In order to seek a remedy to this situation, he  reached out to the Londonderry Zoning Board.  During the May 17 meeting of the board, Burnham, along with his family and one of his neighbors,  pled their case.

Although it appeared that he did not have experience going before a board such as this, Burnham, who is also a contractor, came prepared.

He argued that although his acreage fell below the minimum, such a coop would not negatively affect the neighbors due to it being hidden from the neighborhood, not to mention that he will only be keeping hens, thus eliminating the chance of noise from roosters.

The chickens, which would be kept in a 12” by 16” coop next to Burnham’s shed, would simply be there for the enjoyment of the family, as well as for fresh eggs that he plans on cooking, not selling.  He felt that what he was asking for was “a reasonable request”.

Burnham’s neighbor, Michelle Debye, also spoke for him, feeling that having the chickens would be a good experience for his children and a healthy opportunity for his family.

Once the board decided to go into deliberation, there appeared to be a visible level of frustration coming from board member Jacqueline Benard over the ambiguity of the ordinance, as it did not address any sort of appropriate ratio between number of animals and the size of the property. She was also concerned for the welfare of the chickens, not knowing whether or not the decreased dimensions of the property might negatively affect them in some way.

On the other hand, Board member Jim Tirabassi seemed apprehensive about creating a variance for the ordinance at all.

Although Burnham’s neighbors appear to be in support of his idea, Tirabassi was concerned about the undeveloped property behind Burnham’s home turning into more housing in the future.  He also noted that “there’s no hardship if [the variance] is not granted”.

Despite these concerns, however, the board seemed to have little issue with granting the variance, due to the small scale and circumstances.  If anything, the board struggled more with finding the appropriate wording for the variance due to the ordinance’s vagueness.

In the end, the board unanimously approved a variance for Burnham, albeit with the restrictions of allowing no more than six hens, no roosters at all and the chickens were not allowed to be free-range.

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