Board Of Health Tells Chicken Outlaw "This Is Over"

President of Board of Health tells DelVecchio that the Board's decision to deny his request to revise ordinance banning backyard chickens stands.

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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Arlene M. Baladi June 28, 2012 at 02:32 PM
Please DON'T give up Mr. DelVecchio, it's not over until it's over!
Jeffrey DelVecchio June 28, 2012 at 09:25 PM
I haven't given up, although I came pretty close. I am working on something for the near future. The best thing anyone can do to help right now is to tell the Health Department you want to raise chickens. There is strength in numbers.
Ron McClellan June 28, 2012 at 10:41 PM
Actually, unless the response is truly overwhelming, that isn't likely to have much effect. Sadly, the reality is that 90% of the populations simply doesn't give a rats butt about backyard chickens one way or the other. And don't overestimate the value of "strength in numbers." That's only good if "the numbers" are strong. Lots of groups have lots of numbers . . .but don't actually have anyone doing very much. Petitions are as likely to have no effect as to actually have an effect. Rookie officials are sometimes intimidated by petitions, but veterans tend to take a less serious view of them, again, unless the numbers are really overwhelming, and are verifiable from actual voters in whatever district or boundaries they serve. You also have to be careful when it comes to publicity. Keep in mind that as often as not, we inadvertently end up "tipping our hand" to a lot of folks who aren't interested in the facts about chickens, and have no desire to be educated (same with officials on that front.) Then we go to a meeting, with maybe a dozen fellow chicken advocates . . .and find a dozen anti-chicken folks who heard about your cause, and they "don't want chickens in our city!" Guess who wins that draw most. of the time, sadly. Publicity can be beneficial, but you have to weigh it VERY carefully. Try to gauge public sentiment. If it doesn't appear to building your way, best to tone it down a notch.
Ron McClellan June 28, 2012 at 10:56 PM
We also want to be careful not to fall for "The Choirs Opinion" and delude ourselves into thinking we're a force, when we simply aren't. A classic mistake many pro-chicken advocate groups make. One thing I tell folks all the time, is these officials aren't particularly interested in "the facts" they just have to pretend they are. I'll assume you went over the benefits of keeping chickens with them already, and probably also gave convincing evidence that many of the supposed "concerns" are simply myths or half truths at best. That should work . . .but more often than not . . .simply doesn't. At this point, you simply aren't going to convince them. You have to make them. And that actually doesn't even really involve "chicken stuff." Yea I know it's counter-intuitive, but it's the reality. This IS a political issue, and as such that means it's WAY more about perception than reality. Ya need to actually scare these officials a little to get any respect. Ms. Slavin pretty clearly doesn't respect or fear you, as evidenced by flippantly declaring to you, "It's over" What you need to do, is go on the offensive, politically. Go on the offensive against Ms. Slavin. And "Chicken facts" are almost a minor issue. It's a liberty issue, actually. Some folks call that "waving the Constitution" around. Well . . .YEA. That's why it's there. Anyway, as you can tell, I'm not real big on sugar coating things. If ya can deal with that, come visit Ga Chickens. Either way, Good luck
Jeffrey DelVecchio June 28, 2012 at 11:03 PM
Ron, The reason I ask people to contact the Health Department is they told me they weren't going to change the ordinance because I was the only person to ever ask to raise chickens. They also expressed concern about having too many people wanting to raise chickens. I would think if 10-20 people wanted to do it they would have to act. That sounds like a reasonable number to me and is in line with what is going on in other communities of this size. The Board of Health ultimately makes this decision. The Board is made up of the Health Department employees and the other members are appointed by the Mayor and Council. Othar than that, the M&C say they have no influence over what the Board does. How is that for democracy?


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