The Derry Planning Board has put the final touches on its updated livestock ordinance, with a public hearing and adoption scheduled for the near future.
Code Enforcement Officer Bob Mackey and Animal Control Officer Marlene Bishop appeared before the board March 5 to explain the changes.
Mackey said since the last review of the ordinance, he, Planning Director George Sioras and Planning Assistant Elizabeth Robidoux had met with one of the town’s attorney.
The main motivation for updating the ordinance was finding a better way to deal with nuisance-type situations, Mackey said, noting that many recent complaints dealt with crowing roosters.
The most recent iteration read that lot setbacks must be a minimum of 20 feet from the property line, a regulation that Attorney Jonathan Boutin said should have its own section, Mackey said.
“It is more restrictive than the usual 15-foot setback,” Mackey said.
The most important section dealt with nuisances, and “we’ve gone back and forth with that,” Mackey said. The original draft had more specifics and limited hours, and Boutin suggested the town take out the specifics. The revised section simply reads, “At no time shall a nuisance be created or allowed to continue.”
Specific penalties for offenders were removed, Mackey said. Anyone violating the livestock ordinance will be subject to the fines already in the zoning ordinance. “If it gets to the point where we have to enforce it, it is in the zoning ordinance,” Mackey said. “We’ll prosecute it the same as we would a junk car.”
But Mackey and Bishop are hoping it won’t come to that, and they see education as the key.
Mackey reviewed the current policy on dealing with offenses. “First we go out and talk with them,” he said. “Then we send a letter, and give them time to comply. If they don’t, we send a second letter, and follow with a letter from our attorney saying there might be court action.”
“The idea is to get compliance,” Mackey said, “and not to go out and fine people.”
Earlier meetings had featured discussion on a “tiered” fine system, but the latest version does not, Mackey said. The current ordinance already refers to RSA 676, which allows a fine of up to $275 per day “if we get to that point,” Mackey said.
Earlier discussions had also centered around pre-existing non-conforming use, with a concept of residents “grandfathered in” allowed to keep their animals but not to replace them if they are sold or die. After talking with Boutin the lawyer told him, “It’s not the animal, it’s the use that is protected,” Mackey said.
Mackey said the ordinance includes several new definitions, including the definition of a nuisance. “We toyed with the idea of having a rooster crow between the hours of such and such, but Mr. Boutin said no, just do a straight definition,” he said. Bishop said while the ordinance isn’t perfect, “it’s better than what we had.”
“This does it,” Mackey said. “It’s time to move forward.”
While the ordinance is ready to be adopted, he said, there are also sections in the Town Code dealing with feeding ducks and dogs running loose. “Maybe we’ll look at those at some point,” Mackey said.
The two departments work well together, Bishop said. “A lot of people come to me for issues, and if I can’t solve them it goes over to Bob,” she said.
Mackey and Bishop took questions from the Planning Board. Member Jan Choiniere questioned the fine structure, noting, “$275 a day? For an animal?”
Mackey said the fine was “up to $375 a day,” and that was the standard for zoning violations. And he’d just as soon not collect it, he added. “It is not our intention to go out and hit someone with a fine,” he said.
“We try to educate people first,” Bishop said.
Sioras said legal counsel would take one more look at the ordinance and it would come back to the board, with a public hearing in April or early May.