BIRDS OF A FEATHER: Two years ago, Providence legalized small, backyard chicken flocks. Since then, chicken enthusiasts in other communities have fought for the same, though Cranston Mayor Allan Fung recently vetoed a similar ordinance. Above, Cranston resident Wright Deter with some of the nine chickens he keeps on his property.
Urban chicken-keeping in Rhode Island appeared to cross from the fringe into the mainstream two years ago when Providence legalized small, backyard flocks, followed by Warren and exclusive Barrington last year.
So, it wasn’t a surprise when Cranston chicken enthusiasts became the latest to tap into a trend that has been gaining cultural cache nationally. They proposed a similar ordinance this year that was approved by the City Council.
But a backlash emerged from residents concerned about rats and the thought of farm animals in their neighborhoods. In response, Mayor Allan Fung vetoed the ordinance, raising questions about the merits and risks of chicken legalization in other Rhode Island cities and suburbs.
Opponents’ main concern, echoed by Fung: how a city with a rat problem so serious it had recently limited the use of bird feeders could encourage chickens.
“While there has not been any research which can definitively link the ownership of chickens to a greater risk of rats or other rodents, there is always a concern with ownership of any animals,” Fung said in the message accompanying his veto, which, after narrow council passage, effectively killed the ordinance.
Adding to the rat issue, Fung cited a concern about the cost of enforcing the ordinance and, more controversially, that backyard chickens could drive down property values where “people may not want to purchase a property where there are chickens being raised next door.”
But among several large Rhode Island cities and towns where chickens are legal, finding officials who share Fung’s concerns is difficult.
In Providence, David Ortiz, spokesman for Mayor Angel Taveras, said neither neighbors nor city officials have reported any rat concerns connected with a backyard coop.
Although he said there have been scattered neighbor complaints about noise from backyard flocks in the last two years, Ortiz said the chicken ordinance is not a city concern right now.
In Barrington, Town Manager Peter DeAngelis Jr. said rats have not been a problem in town recently and no complaints have reached his desk about chickens.
DeAngelis said the town has issued about a dozen chicken-coop permits, and the only challenge has been informing some people who already keep the birds that they need to be inspected.