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City revisits urban farming issue

October 7, 2013

PAWTUCKET—The idea got people clucking when it was first introduced in March: a proposal for ordinance changes allowing residents to raise chickens, honeybees and outdoor fish.

Now, city officials are working to draft an ordinance that would allow for this type of limited urban farming, along with fish raising through aquaponics, that will be put to the City Council for consideration.

Nancy Whit, executive director of the Pawtucket Citizens Development Corporation and a representative of the Pawtucket Healthy Foods Coalition, had sent letters to Mayor Donald Grebien asking for the ordinance changes. In particular, she cited the benefits of residential chicken hens in giving people more access to eggs, a low-cost source of protein.

Whit had cited a growing national trend in small-scale, urban farming and said that Rhode Island communities such as Barrington, Providence and South Kingstown had regulations allowing for such activities.
Whit had provided Grebien with a consultants' draft of regulations for the three types of urban farming activities, which were based on ordinances used in other Rhode Island communities. Proposed language called for chickens to be kept in a hen house and fenced outdoor enclosure, and specified one chicken per 800-square feet of land, with a maximum of six chickens per lot.

Proposed language for the bees calls for them to be allowed only on lots with a minimum of 7,000-square feet. Beekeepers would also have to register annually with the state Department of Environmental Management, receive zoning compliance from the city, and abide by other types of regulations as to the hive and safety.

City Planning Director Barney Heath said the initiative sprang from a Healthy Places by Design study that looked at ways in which city residents could have greater access to healthy food. “The thought is that, in general, it's a good thing to encourage more local access to food that is grown and produced locally,” he said. He added that Providence recently adopted regulations allowing for hen chickens, and East Providence allows beekeeping under highly regulated conditions.
Aquaponics, a system in which edible fish are raised in a small pond that is fed by recycled water used to grow fruits and vegetables, is another of the urban farming proposals that supporters say could work in Pawtucket, Heath said.

Heath said that the city's Planning Commission has been meeting with the City Council's Ordinance Committee and Animal Control Committee to discuss the proposed ordinances and tailor the language to best suit Pawtucket and its residents.

Heath said there is ongoing discussion, particularly about the minimum lot size in which to allow chickens. Some of the committee members have not felt comfortable with a 5,000-square foot minimum and have suggested limiting it to 10,000-square foot lots instead. “I believe the Ordinance Committee is intending to hold a public hearing to get comments on the pros and cons of this,” said Heath.

City Councilor Thomas Hodge, who is also chairman of the Ordinance Committee, said the ordinances, especially the ones pertaining to the chickens are “a work in progress.” He, too, said there was disagreement about the minimum lot size, but also concerns about whether a 10,000-square foot lot restriction would constitute “selective zoning” since it would eliminate about half of the city's households from keeping chickens.

Whit said she is supportive of the ordinances because they are all designed to boost healthier eating and give residents greater access to locally grown food sources. “I don't think people will be rushing out to buy chickens. But by enabling this, it will, for some people, be an extra source of protein. It is also a less expensive alternative to buying eggs.”

Whit said that in studies she has read and to her knowledge of the subject, having chickens in the city will not attract rodents, as some critics of the plan have suggested. She noted that the Cranston City Council had thoroughly vetted a similar proposal and had approved it before it was vetoed by the city's mayor. “They wouldn't have approved it if they thought it would attract rodents,” she stated.
Whit added, “If people are comfortable with it, I think it could work in Pawtucket.”

Mayor Donald Grebien is reserving comment on the matter until it is more fully through the ordinance process and reaches the City Council, according to Doug Hadden, director of constituent services and communications.


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