It will now be legal in Cranston to raise backyard chickens for the purpose of collecting fresh eggs after the City Council on Monday approved an ordinance allowing residents to raise up to 10 hens.
Roosters are not permitted and a chicken-raising households must meet other conditions.
The measure narrowly passed with a 5-4 margin. Along with supporters of backyard chicken farming — including several residents who say they've been doing it in the city for some time with no problems — there were several opponents of the ordinance. They cited concerns about pests and disease with the bulk of resistance centered around potential problems with rats.
"Now is not the time for the chicken ordinance," said Councilman Paul Archetto, whose ward suffered some of the worst of the rat infestation that plagued the city all summer.
"Rats are going to burrow under the coops, they will draw wild animals, rabies," Archetto said, noting that if one family has trouble taking care of their birds properly for it to cause problems for their neighbors.
City Council President Elect John E. Lanni Jr. said the ordinance flies in the face of a recent ordinance passed by the council that restricts residents from maintaining more than one bird feeder — a response to the rat problem.
"Not too long ago you passed an ordinance limiting to one bird feeder for a household and now you're allowing 10 chickens per household," Lanni said. "I don't knwo what came first, the chicken or the egg but this is contradictory."
Lanni and others also said the ordinance creates a batch of new work for city employees and animal control officers to deal with and it's not as if the city is flush with cash.
With the passage of the ordinance, though, Cranston isn't breaking new ground by any means. Providence recently passed a backyard chicken ordinance and the trend has taken root across the country.
Resident Wendy Reynoso and her neighbor, Dana Tatlock, said they've been keeping chickens for three years and they've had no problems with their neigbors. Between their two families, they've been taking care of the chickens cooperatively. It has provided good lessons about environmental stewardship and where food comes from for the four children among them along with a steady stream of fresh eggs.
The pro-chicken folks also said fears about salmonella, bird flu and other diseases are actually more prevalent in factory farms where chickens are packed together. The small flocks people keep in their back yards, or "microflocks," are healthier and if there is the odd-chance a disease strikes, it can be contained and controlled.
And fears that there will be a rash of people slapping together chicken coops all over the city are unfounded, they said.
"With the costs connected with getting licensing and permits as well as the cost of the construction materials, you're not going to see hundreds of chicken coops going up all over the city," said Wendy Milne, who said she adopted her chickens from a friend who was moving away. Her coop doesn't smell and there have been "no animal issues associated with them. No rats, no raccoons. There are raccoons living down the street in the sewer and nothing came and attacked these chickens."
Under the ordinance, the chickens cannot be slaughtered and sold or the eggs cannot be sold for any commerical purpose. One hen is allowed per 800 square feet of open lot area with a maximum of ten on any lot. "Open lot area" means open land that is not covered by any structures, such as a garage.
Coops may not touch shared fences and not be within 20 feet to any residential structure on an adjacent property. The building inspector must approve all plans for coops and applicants must pay a $35 fee before getting a registration certificate.
The ordinance (attached to this article) also gives strict specifications for a legal hen house that are designed to prevent pests.
Voting for the ordinance: Councilmen Jim Donahue, Emilio Navarro, Anthony Lupino, Steve Stycos and Maria Bucci.
Voting against the ordinance: Councilmen Richard Santamaria, Paul Archetto, Michael Favicchio and Councilwomen Leslie Ann Luciano.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Councilwoman Maria Bucci voted against the ordinance. It also did not indicate how Councilman Michael Favicchio voted. The story has been corrected and we regret the error.