Pittsfield Board of Health Revisits Proposal to Make Chicken Farms More Affordable / iBerkshires.com

A proposal to place chicken farming regulations under the Board of Health would make the practice easier and cheaper for residents to implement, advocates say. The Board of Health is not sure that the Department of Health should take on that responsibility.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Members of the Board of Health are reluctant to place chicken farm permits under the purview of the Department of Health, but have agreed to gather more information on the matter.

The panel on Wednesday revisited a proposal by resident Melissa Corbett that moves the permitting process for six chickens from the Zoning Board of Appeals to the BOH, reducing the fee from more than $500 to about $25.

“I think we all understand that the ZBA process is expensive and cumbersome,” said President Bobbie Orsi.

“I don’t know what they would say about it, but it sure looks like it could be the tip of the iceberg and I think we would like to make a decision like that with a lot more information than we have.”

Corbett and general counsel Karen Kalinowsky say the current cost is steep, especially for low-income families who want to fight the rising price of eggs by supplying their own.

In November, Public Health Director Andy Cambi said the current process was effective and raised concerns about taxing the department with another liability.

Corbett was unable to attend this week’s meeting, but submitted a written statement that Kalinowsky read to the board.

“State rules for a special permit that cannot be changed locally make the process of keeping six chickens unnecessarily complicated as well as expensive. Costs for attorney fees and deed notes cannot be changed locally and will not they are needed,” Corbett wrote.

“It has already been argued that keeping six chickens should be no more difficult than keeping as many dogs. Even if the tuition fee is reduced significantly, the cost still remains high with state-required fees for the ZBA Special Permit. The Process that tax coverage is unnecessary. Neighbors can easily be notified without legal process and by adding a note to the title deed. This is very unnecessary.”

He said the process transfer would change it to a chicken record with a signature indicating the ownership can support the cooperative under current regulations.

“As a leader in a local church, I understand very well the challenge of a community organization taking on a new task. I totally understand the challenge of asking already busy staff to take on new responsibilities and put on new hats,” Corbett wrote.

“I also understand, however, that sometimes it is necessary to do these things in order to meet the needs of the community we serve, fulfilling our purpose and mission as an organization. It seems clear after looking at many other cities and towns in Massachusetts that ranching of chickens should fall under the jurisdiction of the Board of Health.”

Kalinowsky was shocked by the cost and deed attachment requirements when they were brought to her attention. The two agree with the ZBA’s regulations for chicken farming only to not proceed with obtaining permits.

“I just think we can do better for all the people of Pittsfield,” he said.

There was some back and forth between the counselor and the board during the conversation.

The city has seen 18 chicken permits in the past five years, but Kalinowksy said there are plenty of unregulated chickens. This worried board members, as they questioned whether he would open a can of worms and whether the health department should track down any unauthorized chickens.

“It may be more complicated than we realize,” Orsi said.

Kalinowski argued that is not a reason to shoot down the proposal.

Cambi said complaints are directed to the building inspector who oversees zoning changes and his department only gets involved if there are unsanitary conditions.

He believes the financial piece should be addressed rather than changing the process. On the other hand, Kalinowsky said that this solution will be the most cost-effective and that the use of grants is not permanent.

Brad Gordon wondered if there was a more “holistic” way to approach permits that include all pets.

Members were also candid about the group’s inclination to act in the best interests of public health, noting that the proposal was made solely because of cost.

“That doesn’t seem like the best reason to change the process, which is cheaper than it is here,” Orsi said.

“I think if there’s any real public health reason to be here, that’s something that’s important, and of course we want to keep it accessible if people want to be able to do that, but I think we have to figure all of this out.”

Board member Steven Smith emphasized that he is in this position to protect public health and will do everything possible to fulfill that mission. He’s also passionate about helping people in financial need and said he just needs more information to be “all inclusive” about the proposal.

Kalinowsky said providing food for your family is considered a public health concern.

Before the next BOH meeting, information on the A to Z of chicken permits, any complaints about chickens, other non-domesticated animals in the community and possible ways to deal with the cost will be gathered.

Orsi acknowledged that this should be a broader conversation with all related entities involved.

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