A potential clash between the burgeoning urban agriculture movement and city law governing small livestock has prompted Kingston’s zoning code enforcement officer to call on the Common Council to clarify existing regulations.

“Let’s just say there’s been a flock of people asking about chickens for a long time,” said Mike Madsen, a former alderman and county lawmaker who was recently appointed Kingston’s zoning code enforcement officer.

In a communication to the Common Council, Madsen wrote that his reading of the city’s zoning code appeared to allow for the keeping of chickens and other small livestock provided that they are kept inside or in “an enclosed yard or other enclosure suitable for the sanitary confinement of such animal or fowl.” But, Madsen said, the language is vague and it is unclear whether the animals were restricted to owner-occupied properties, i.e., could renters keep chickens. Conflicting opinions issued from the Corporation Counsel’s Office over the years provided little guidance, Madsen stated.

Julie Noble, head of Kingston’s Conservation Advisory Council, said the council had taken up the issue back in 2009 and determined that the law, which appeared to permit the keeping of chickens as long as they were not a nuisance to neighbors, was sufficient. But, Noble said, the law had been applied unevenly by different city agencies. Noble said that she would support changes to the zoning code to provide clearer guidelines to Kingston’s chicken-keepers.

“I don’t think it’s a bad idea to have some clarification of language in the code where it’s not entirely clear.”

Drive for urban agriculture

The nonprofit open space preservation group Kingston Land Trust, meanwhile is embarking on a project to substantially rework the law, in part to make it clearer. The group’s urban agriculture committee plans to present legislation to the Conservation Advisory Council, which will pass on its recommendation to the Common Council. Rebecca Martin, executive director of the Kingston Land Trust said that effort, which is just getting under way, could take a year or more. Martin said the group would first seek to educate the public and elected officials about the benefits of urban agriculture as it pertains to all sorts of small livestock. The end result, she hoped would be actual legislation.

Slideshow photo by Dan Barton.