By DAVE FISHER/ecoRI News staff
WARWICK, R.I. — On the heels of the Providence City Council’s decision to allow city residents to keep up to six egg-laying hens on their property, a group has sprung up in Warwick that would like to see that city revisit its regulations concerning the keeping of fowl within city limits.
Last week, at his home just over the Providence line, local chef Darius Salko hosted about 30 people at an informational meeting. Attendees were asked to sign a petition and were offered a slew of information on the raising and care of chickens. Council member Miguel Luna of Providence's 9th Ward stopped by the meeting to offer his support, and Ken Ayars, director of the state Department of Environmental Management’s Division of Agriculture has expressed support for changing the law.
The group appears to have some good momentum and has already collected roughly 200 signatures for the cause. But the real story isn’t that they’re trying to get the law changed. It’s that someone already did.
Three years ago, Tony and Carol Perry applied to the city to obtain a special-use zoning variance to raise chickens — not for their eggs or meat — just to keep them as pets. At the time, the city took their check for $114; they jumped through all of the hoops of required setbacks and informing their neighbors of their plans, and began raising one rooster and five hens, per their zoning variance.
Well, three years later the Perrys were served with a summons to appear Dec. 2 before a judge to answer to charges of illegally keeping chickens within the city.
“It’s ridiculous,” Tony said. “They took our money, and our permit has been tabled at every zoning committee meeting for three years.”
At the hearing, a Warwick zoning official was asked by a surprised judge why the Perrys had not been granted their variance. After initially refusing to answer the question, he admitted not knowing why the Perrys haven’t been summoned before the zoning board in the last three years or granted the variance.
It has been uncovered recently that the Warwick Zoning Board has been issuing variances that it is not legally allowed to issue. In Warwick, the task of issuing zoning variances falls to the City Council.
Carol, who is quite enamored of her rooster, Sunshine, said, “I love these animals. He (the rooster) takes care of his hens, and it’s sweet to see. You have to be just as responsible to take care of a dog or cat.”
Tony thought the judge seemed sympathetic to their cause when he ordered a continuance to allow the Perry’s counsel to prepare his case. Their next hearing hasn’t yet been scheduled.