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Commission to take over writing of Stonington chicken rules

STONINGTON — The proposed amendment to the town’s zoning regulations that would have allowed the keeping of chickens in residential zones has been denied, but the issue is far from dead.

Members of the Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to reject the application by resident Peg Moran, who submitted it on behalf of Chicken Lovers Urge Change, the group that has been promoting the new rules. However, the commission also voted unanimously to develop a new version of the amendment as a commission initiative.

After the votes, Chairman Robert Marseglia thanked Moran and her group, also known as CLUC*K, for their work. He said he thought the groundwork that the group had done would eventually yield a change to the regulations that would improve residents’ ability to keep chickens while minimizing the potential for nuisances.

“This is one of the few times when we deny something but it’s not a bad feeling,” Marseglia said. “We’re moving ahead in a positive direction, I hope.”

Under current regulations, chickens are considered “grazing animals,” a category that also includes cows and sheep. Such animals are prohibited on residential lots smaller than 3 acres. Residents of properties larger than 3 acres are limited to just two such animals, although designated farms are allowed to have more.

While commissioners were receptive to the idea of allowing more chickens on smaller lots, they said they couldn’t approve the Chicken Lovers’ proposal as written. The amendment the group proposed would have allowed residents to keep a maximum of either six chickens or two chickens per human member of the household, whichever is greater, regardless of the zone in which their property is located.

Commission members said they were concerned that the limit would be difficult to enforce, and questioned the wisdom of allowing chickens in all zones in light of complaints about wandering birds and foul odors. When properly kept, hens shouldn’t smell or stray into neighbors’ yards, but commissioners noted that not everyone keeps hens properly.

In order to strike a balance between allowing more chickens in Stonington and protecting property owners from careless neighbors, the commission decided it would be better to write a new proposal that would restrict hens to specific zones, set a firm maximum number of birds allowed on a property, and address minimum setbacks from neighboring properties.

Commissioner John Prue said the application as submitted left too many gaps and would be difficult to rework. But he said the Chicken Lovers had already done much of the necessary work for a future application on which the commission would take the lead.

“This has advanced the ball well past the 50-yard line,” Prue said. “We’re not starting from scratch.”

Marseglia agreed. “I think if we do this correctly as a town, we can get it right and make something that benefits all the residents of the town,” he said.

Moran said she was not disappointed by the commission’s decision. She said she thought having the issue become a commission initiative would allow for a more detailed proposal and a better back-and-forth between her group, the town’s staff, and the general public.

“It’s been a very encouraging discussion, actually,” Moran said. “I think that to have it be well-crafted, to have it be satisfactory to everybody in town, and to take the time to be able to do that, I’m totally in agreement with you.”

The chicken issue was one of three public hearings scheduled for Tuesday’s meeting. It had previously been continued from the commission’s Aug. 6 and July 16 meetings. The other hearings scheduled for the evening were a continuation of the hearing on the proposed addition of retention ponds to the drainage plan for Old Mystic Estates — which had begun on Aug. 6 — and the opening of a hearing on a zone change requested by Mystic Aquarium that would allow it to sell a lot it owns for retail development.

The drainage modification proposed by Toll Brothers, the owner of the Pequot Trail development, is intended to fix a problem that has affected the development’s downhill neighbors since 2010.

The southwestern portion of the subdivision, which was approved in 2004 and purchased by Toll Brothers in 2010, has experienced flooding and mudslides that have inundated a house downhill on Whitehall Avenue. Tom Collier, the attorney representing Toll Brothers, appeared before the commission in June to discuss modifications that he said would solve the problem.

However, because of concerns from the affected neighbors, the commission scheduled a public hearing on the matter.

After more than two hours of discussion and public comments Tuesday night, the commission continued the Old Mystic Estates drainage hearing to its next regular meeting on Sept. 3. The aquarium hearing was opened at roughly 11:20 p.m. and immediately continued to a special meeting scheduled for Aug. 27.

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