Marlene Slavin, President of New Milford's Board of Health, informed Jeffrey DelVecchio, the self-proclaimed that the board stands by their original decision to deny his request to revise the 1968 borough ordinance banning the keeping of backyard chickens, despite the fact that no one on the board could cite the original intent of the ban.
Slavin said that New Milford, with 16,000 residents, is too densely populated an area to keep chickens. She said that keeping chickens should require at least a one or two acre plot of land.
In informing DelVecchio of the Board's final decision, Slavin said, "This is over."
All the DelVecchio family wanted to do was to reduce their carbon footprint. They never knew they were breaking the law by having chickens in an enclosed coop in their backyard. It wasn't until they received a summons in the mail from the Board of Health that they learned it was illegal to keep hens in New Milford despite the fact that there is an ordinance permitting the keeping of homing pigeons.
In keeping with his sustainable lifestyle (solar panels, electric car, vegetable garden...) DelVecchio made the decision to raise six hens so that his family could eat freshly laid organic eggs. Jeff researched every kind of hen before choosing the six that he eventually purchased. DelVecchio constructed an enclosed chicken coop in the backyard specifically designed to keep the hens in and rodents out.
After one of DelVecchio's neighbors complained to the Board of Health, he received a letter from the board on January 5 notifying him of its decision to enforce an ordinance banning the keeping of chickens. The letter stated he had 45 days to remove the chickens from his backyard.
DelVecchio attended the March Board of Health meeting where Slavin informed him that board members had been advised they could not comment on the matter, because it was scheduled to be heard in municipal court.
DelVecchio appealed the case in New Milford Municipal Court where the Borough prosecutor, Michael Kingman, threatened jail time if DelVecchio continued to disobey the Board of Health ordinance restricting the keeping of poultry.
Kingman issued a fine of $1000 and 15 days to remove the chickens before further fines were applied. However, when DelVecchio appeared before Judge Kevin Kelly, the fine was reduced to $539 and he was given additional time to remove the chickens, which he did.
And now, post court ruling, post removing the chickens, DelVecchio is once again before the Board of Health pleading his case to amend the 1968 ordinance.
Although Slavin said that the board did not receive any phone calls, emails or letters in support of Delvecchio's petition, nor has any other resident come to the board requesting a review of the ordinance, she said, "We don't want to open these floodgates," by revising the ordinance to allow the keeping of chickens.
Board member Mary McNicholas, who had abstained when the Board of Health voted on whether or not to amend the ordinance to allow the keeping of chickens, said that given the date of the ordinance, perhaps it should be reviewed. She stated that something made the banning of chickens an issue in 1968, but "is it applicable now?"
Supporting the keeping of the ordinance, Sam Yanovich, New Milford's Health Officer, raised the recent outbreak of salmonella among mail order chickens as a reason for a public health concern.
Although the board said that they read all of the literature that he provided to them and appreciated the fact that DelVecchio was responsible with the keeping and maintenance of his backyard chickens, they said that there is no guarantee that others would be.
"The problem is settled; it's run its course," Slavin said. "The decision is to keep the ordinance as it is."
After the meeting, a visibly upset DelVecchio said, "I'm disheartened by the decision and I'm disheartened by New Milford."
Still, he's not ready to concede defeat. Not yet.
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