A sign at Worcester City Council held by a supporter of a proposal to allow city residents to raise chickens.

A sign at Worcester City Council held by a supporter of a proposal to allow city residents to raise chickens.

By Noah R. Bombard

The city of Worcester is a small step closer to letting the chickens out of the closet.

City Council tonight got its first glimpse of a proposed ordinance that would allow city residents to raise chickens, something currently not allowed, but sometimes done under the radar. The proposal, which would limit residents to five chickens, has been in the works for the past year.

Residents in support of the move filled council chambers with signs reading “Give peeps a chance” and “Worcester wants chickens.”

“The idea of having chickens, even though it’s fun and cute and we can all sort of giggle about it, it’s also just a really great food security, anti-hunger and nutrition strategy for many people.” said Liz Sheehan Castro, of the Worcester Food and Active Living Policy Council.

Proponents argue despite the rural, farm images chicken raising may conjure, the raising of chickens for fresh eggs (the proposed Worcester ordinance doesn’t allow butchering) is a way for people to reconnect with their food sources.

“I can tell you I’ve done a great deal of research on this and it’s certainly an increasing trend across the nation,” said District 4 City Councilor Barbara Haller, who filed the order along with Mayor Joe O’Brien. “The question is not whether [it should be allowed], but how.”

Haller, who told Worcester Wired in May she personally can’t wait to be able to raise a couple of chickens, worked with a small group of supporters over the past year to look at ordinances in other cities and hammer out the wording of the proposal.

The proposal, which the council voted to send to the Public Health and Human Services Committee for review, was not received without some skepticism from councilors, however.

City Councilor Konstantina Lukes said she was concerned about the proposed $15 registration fee for chickens, noting that the fee for exotic animals is $50.

“The fee is obviously much too low, especially if we’re going to look at it as a source of revenue possibly to add more animal control officers,” she said. “I see some real problems in implementation and I’m somewhat concerned about the merits of the item, so I’m going to need some convincing.”

Lukes sits on the Public Health and Human Services Committee.

District 5 City Councilor William Eddy suggested hearing an opinion from animal control on the proposal.

“Over on the west side I can tell you that residents in my district who live on Moreland Hill and live in West Tatnuck routinely hear and see coyotes up there,” Eddy said. “Anything that invites them closer has my attention.”

But residents speaking in support of the order rebutted some of the concerns. Resident John Slim said he grew up on Stow where he and his family raised chickens. Coyotes could be heard at the nearby Minute Man Air Field, he said, but were never an issue for the family’s chickens.

Resident Kristi Chadwick, who has worked closely with Haller to draft the proposal, told councilors that for her, it’s about wanting to know where her food comes from.

“Raising chickens within urban areas has been proven successful time and time again as has been demonstrated by New York City, by Providence, R.I., Los Angles, Calif. and Portalnd, Oregon,” Chadwick said. “And I think Worcester has the opportunity to provide its residents the option of raising chickens to continue toward a more sustainable future.”

The Public Health and Human Services Committee will examine the order further at an upcoming meeting.

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