Lewiston residents are finding out that they can’t keep chickens in their backyards. Sun Journal file photos

LEWISTON — All the man wanted to do was build himself a coop, get some chickens and start enjoying the fresh eggs.

He went to City Hall to ask about permits. He checked the city webpage to look over the local ordinance pertaining to chickens.

Everything looked good, so he went out and spent $1,000 putting together a coop in the large, fenced-in yard of his Tampa Street home. He got half a dozen chickens to put inside and just recently, the chickens started laying eggs at a pace of three-per-day.

It was more or less poultry bliss on Tampa Street.

Then there was a knock on the door and Animal Control Officer Wendell Strout was there to inform the fellow that he was in violation of the local ordinance. Specifically, the Tampa Street man does not live on a lot of 30,000 square feet or larger, which is required by the ordinance.

With that grim news passed along, Strout moved on to the next reported violation, which as it happened was just around the corner on Haley Street.

“I feel bad,” Strout said this week. “People are paying $300 or $500 for a coop and then putting six chickens in it so they can save money on the eggs. Then they’ve got me knocking on the door and saying, you have to get rid of them.”

Strout has visited several people in recent weeks to tell them they can’t keep their chickens. Most of them, like the Tampa Street man, just don’t have the space required by the ordinance — 30,000 square feet translates to roughly 0.7 acres of land.

“There aren’t a lot of residences in Lewiston with that big a lot,” Strout said.

The Tampa Street man did not want to be identified because he plans to try fighting the ordinance. His claim is that the city did not make the ordinance restrictions clear enough before he built his coop.

A city clerk, he said, told him that his property was plenty big enough to keep chickens. When he went online to double-check, on the city webpage, he found no mention of a space restriction.

Indeed, a quick search for the ordinance pertaining to chickens in Lewiston brings visitors to an archived page at lewiston.gov. The page spells out all the requirements for keeping chickens in the city, but makes no mention of the 30,000-square-foot requirement.

A different page on the city website — the so called “chicken cheat sheet” — does list the space requirements, but that page doesn’t come up as quickly in a web search.

Whatever the source of confusion, Strout said he has been all over the city, checking out reports of illegally kept chickens and notifying the owners when they are in violation of the ordinance. It hasn’t proven to be a simple task. As it turns out, chickens are everywhere in Lewiston.

Earlier in the week, Strout was on Perley Street to investigate a reported violation. While he was there, “I heard a rooster,” Strout said. “I thought, where the heck is that coming from? So, I went over to Bradford Street and down at the end, there’s a nice coop with chickens and a rooster.”

That latter bird alone was a violation of the ordinance.

“You can’t own a rooster,” Strout said. “Hens don’t make any noise. Roosters do.”

After dealing with that business, Strout cruised out Old Greene Road where he found — you guessed it, more of the birds.

“There are free-range chickens and roosters roaming in the front yard,” Strout said. “The more I look, the more I find.”

For an animal control officer who has a crazy variety of critter problems to deal with each day, Strout said he would like to spend less time on the chicken beat. His hope is that in the future, people will research more thoroughly before they go out and set up their chicken coops.

“They’re welcome to call me,” Strout said. “They can tell me where they live and I’ll research it for them. Not only will I save them money, I’ll save myself time.”

He hasn’t had to cite anyone for violating the ordinance, Strout said. The chicken owners he’s talked to so far have been cooperative. But with the popularity of city farming on the rise, the trend probably isn’t going to slow down any time soon.

The backyard chicken craze began years ago and has been growing steadily since. Statistics are hard to come by — not every chicken-keeper needs a permit and there’s no central database tracking Maine’s backyard chicken population. But there’s other evidence that chickens are only getting more popular, like the nearly 14,000 poultry-loving people who have joined the Maine Poultry Connection group on Facebook.

Lewiston city leaders updated the local ordinance in the autumn of 2016 in response to a petition started by local residents who demanded the right to keep laying hens on their properties. At the time, there was grumbling about the 30,000 square feet requirement, but at least everyone seemed to know about it.

Newcomers, though, might miss that detail, depending on what page they find first on the city website.

Contact Wendell Strout at 513-3001, ext. 6322.


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