Chickens may soon be coming to a yard nearby.
Gardner City Council members approved amendments to the zoning code that will allow residents to have vegetable gardens and to keep chickens.
The new regulations will allow Gardner residents to own up to one fowl or rabbit per 1,000 square-feet of lot area. No more than 15 fowl or rabbit or other animals of similar size will be allowed. Residents must seek approval from the business and economic development director or a designee before putting chickens on a city lot.
Council member Heath Freeman said the amendment would allow up to seven chickens on the average-sized Gardner lot of 7,500 to 8,000 square feet.
“I know we talked about limits,” he said. “That’s a little higher than I expected.”
Freeman was also raised concerns about enforcement.
“Chickens are going to get loose,” Freeman said. “We will run into that.”
The amendment prohibits chickens and rabbits from running at-large within city limits. The animals must be kept in an enclosed structure that is located at least 30-feet away from the nearest neighbor’s dwelling. That doesn’t mean animals won’t get loose, however, and animal control, a part of the police department, will deal with it.
“If we have 10 chickens running loose, we’ll have to figure out a way to handle that,” Acting police captain Jay Belcher told the council.
Council opted to approve the amendments, but they won’t go into effect until February to allow city staff and council to determine how they will enforce loose chickens.
Council members rejected city staff’s recommendation to limit the size of gardens and regulate the location of gardens.
As proposed, the amendment would have limited garden size to 80 percent of a back or side yard and 20 percent of a front yard. The proposal would also have required that gardens be set back at least three feet from all property lines.
“We’re not going to jump fences and measure,” city public works director Brian Faust told the council.
Faust said city staff included provisions about setbacks and garden size, so residents have room to walk around their gardens and because runoff from gardens can create storm water and drainage problems. And, Faust noted, current city code does not allow residents to have a garden.
“There’s nothing in the ordinances that says you can have a garden,” Faust said.
Freeman said the garden regulations seemed unnecessary. He suggested simply adding wording that says gardens are allowed within city limits.
“It seems we’re working pretty hard to solve a non-problem,” Freeman said.
Council agreed. As amended, the changes will stipulate that Gardner residents can have fruit and vegetable gardens, but the code will not regulate size, appearance or location.
In other business, council members:
• approved changes to the city’s design standards that exempt residences from some building design standards;
• amended the zoning ordinances to allow businesses in the downtown corridor to apply for reduced parking allowances;
• adopted a resolution creating a utility advisory commission, which will replace the city’s electric advisory board. The new commission will include current members of the electric board, and be tasked with oversight and recommendations related to the city’s water, wastewater and electric utilities.
The next Gardner city council meeting is set for Jan. 2. Council members met at a retreat workshop after press time on Dec. 16.
Code changes to permit chickens in backyards