By Susan Gonsalves, Contributing Writer
Westborough – Selectmen briefly discussed banning roosters and instituting a fee for all poultry owners in Westborough March 23. But they ultimately stepped back opting at their meeting to let voters weigh in on broader changes before fine tuning specific policies.
The Board was once again reviewing a proposed bylaw set to appear on the May 15 Town Meeting warrant that stipulates the number of chickens, ducks and other poultry that residents can keep on lots of less than two acres.
The proposed bylaw also sets perimeters for enclosures and enacts other measures with a goal of alleviating neighbors’ concerns about noise, odor and property encroachment.
Residents voice concerns
During an open forum at the start of the meeting, Warren Street resident David Silva spoke to a distinction that he said should be made between keeping chickens as pets versus in an agricultural capacity.
Silva said loose chickens wandering around changes the characteristics of a residential neighborhood in a detrimental way.
He spoke about chickens having no boundaries in terms of where they roam and “use the bathroom,” saying that they impact nine to eleven other nearby properties with their presence.
He added that Westborough is a suburb of Boston and said he expected a residential setting to be just that when he bought his property. He said he did not anticipate living in an agricultural environment.
Changes to proposed bylaw suggested
Selectman Shelby Marshall questioned whether a ban on roosters should be included in the bylaw, calling them “lovely creatures that may need to find new homes that aren’t in Westborough.”
Animal Control Officer/Inspector Melinda MacKendrick noted that when people buy chickens, they are unaware of which ones are male. Usually, the count is about one out of ten. She said that if noise becomes a problem for certain neighbors, she would talk to the owners and handle removal on a case-by-case basis.
Keeping roosters in soundproof coops was one suggestion, though MacKendrick noted that, in general, she is not against people owning roosters as long as they are not nuisances.
Selectman Sean Keogh said that he trusted that the animal control officer could address problems as they arose and felt a ban was too harsh.
“I’d hate to eliminate these poor guys because there are a few bad actors,” he said.
“I thought you were going to say a few bad eggs,” quipped Selectmen Chairman Allen Edinberg.
Marshall also brought up concerns about giving poultry owners 18 months to adhere to the bylaw’s stipulations. She suggested that the time period was “excessive and not acceptable.”
Instead, she suggested that the deadline should be six or nine months to resolve issues about flock size and enclosure structures. Eventually, the animal control officer advised that a uniform 12-month deadline made more sense.
From there, Marshall did also suggest instituting a $25 annual fee to own chickens.
She said the fee would, secondarily, help with data gathering.
MacKendrick pointed out that Westborough has more than 900 chickens and questioned who would collect the fees and keep track of who paid.
The board decided not to have a fee.
Selectman Ian Johnson said that it is better to get a bylaw adopted and in place and fine tune it later, rather than trying to achieve “perfection.” Johnson said that he would rely on Animal Control Officer MacKendrick to use her expertise in handling problems some neighbors are having.
The next step, Board members said, is for Town Manager Kristi Williams to make minor adjustments discussed and forward the latest poultry bylaw document to town counsel for review.
The matter will be taken up again when selectmen vote to approve the Town Meeting warrant next month.