Yesterday, I posted a piece about a luxury chicken coop available in Woonsocket. The story was meant to be a good-natured jab at the bureaucracy in Woonsocket, and the fact that the city has adopted the strictest, most expensive backyard chicken ordinance in the U.S. When I posted the story link on facebook, I referred to the Woonsocket Zoning Board of Review as "thugs."
The reason, I went with that particular word choice is because it is accurate.
Here's some background. Roughly two years ago, a family in Woonsocket was cited for having chickens in their backyard. Under then existing city statutes "no farm animal" of any kind was permissible with the city limits. The family raised the chickens for eggs for their daughter who has gastro-intestinal issues. Store bought eggs made her sick. Their son then took it upon himself to start a city wide petition to allow backyard chickens within the city, and after collecting several hundred signatures, brought his plea to the City Council. Initially, the council gave him a flat-out, "no," using what seemed like an endless stream of faulty logic, opinion disguised as fact, and willful ignorance, which all boiled down to the following argument:
"We can't allow this in the city because some people may not follow the rules."
By that token, we'd have to ban guns, cars, chemicals, medicine, investment banking, board games, pub trivia nights, dry clean only shirts, etc.
As a chef and foodie, one of the more disturbing aspects of the City Council battle was the seeming inability for some members to understand that some people would prefer to not buy eggs from abused chickens. In most factory farms, chickens have their beaks, claws, and wings clipped, are pumped full of antibiotics, and live out a short, miserable life in a cage that is so small that they can't even turn around or spread their wings. If you treated a dog or cat the way most egg-laying chickens are raised in this country, you'd be brought up on animal cruelty charges.
After the initial response, the young man was not daunted, and set about actually crafting a city ordinance that would allow anyone with a single family home and $374 to spare can have the privilege of owning up to four hens within the city. And of course there is the red tape of setback and coop construction and maintenance standards. This ordinance all-but literally restricts access to a food source from the very people who would stand to benefit most from low-cost eggs: the poor.
Now the law is in effect, and the family is applying for their - I can't believe I'm writing this - chicken keeping permit. At their first hearing before the Zoning Board, again the inane questioning continued, and the permit was tabled until the next meeting. I was not at the meeting, but I was told that the board was dismissive and rude to the young man and his family.
I guess I really shouldn't expect much from a body where one member openly posts things on facebook like this: