Backyard Chickens, Front Page News. Flock Focus Friday 8/22/14
Backyard Chickens, Front Page News. Flock Focus Friday 8/22/14
This week’s Flock Focus Friday finds my backyard chickens the subject of front page headlines in the newspaper. I have been fielding many questions and requests for a fuller picture of the five year history of this situation and while the newspaper article hits the basics, there are critical points notably missing, which I have detailed below.
The town issued permits for all three of our coops on 10/16/12, which were approved by the Zoning Enforcement Officer, Health Department, Building Department and Wetlands Department (after two separate inspections prompted by the neighbor’s false complaints of odors, vermin and flies). It bears noting that the only other complaints received by the Zoning Enforcement Officer came by phone and email from Maine blogger Lisa Steele of Fresh Eggs Daily who testified under oath in a defamation lawsuit deposition (that can be read here) that she called my town’s zoning official and that she views me as a competitor. I’m not sure which character is more tragic, the neighbor or the rotten egg in Maine.
A few important points are missing from the article, most importantly, that the Zoning Enforcement Officer, James Taylor, met with my attorney (Lingenfelter) and the Town Planner, Bill Hawkins and represented that leasing an additional three acres of land would
put me in compliance with zoning regulations. Taylor stated that he has authorized horse keepers to lease additional acreage to bring their property into zoning compliance in the past. Months after we leased the land, Taylor refused to honor his representation.
September, 2014: I argued an application to amend the zoning code language to expressly permit hobby farms and backyard chickens. The actual hearing can be seen here. When the Suffield Zoning Commission denied my language revision proposal, they stated that they would assemble a committee of experts and town residents to draft a regulation to legalize the keeping of backyard chickens in town on properties less than five acres. One year has passed since that promise and the Suffield Zoning Commission has done precisely nothing to revise the zoning code.
The complaining neighbors, Karl and Sarah Stursberg at 493 South Stone Street, West Suffield, have been changing and modifying their weekly complaints to public officials since 2009 when the first Cease & Desist letter was issued to us by the town. We have a signed agreement in the zoning file with the Stursbergs from 2009 that states they have no objection to our hens or roosters provided the roosters are kept in the coop until 7:30 am. The Zoning Enforcement Officer withdrew the 2009 Cease and Desist order with the required filing of that agreement in his office.
For years we went beyond that agreement, keeping the rooster in the basement or garage until 9am. Sarah Stursberg and her daughter have taken a tour of my coop and chicken yard, visited my chickens and enjoyed gifts of dozens of our eggs. At some point the Stursbergs decided that signed agreement no longer suited them and complained to the town again. There have never been any other problems, issues or bad blood between us and the neighbors.
UPDATE 9/3/14 I have put up with quite a lot of nonsense from the town of Suffield, but today they went TOO FAR. It seems the town hasn’t appreciated your emails and phone calls & are hopeful that you will go away if/when I purchase additional acreage from the adjacent property owner so that they can go back to their quiet, part-time, over-compensated jobs. Today, the zoning enforcement officer had the audacity to contact the owner of the property I am trying to purchase. Regardless of the purpose, how dare he?
I expected intentional interference with the land transaction from the neighbors, the Stursbergs, (yes, they called and wrote to the property owner, begging him not to sell us the acreage) but I am mortified that the zoning officer feels he has any right to insert himself into a land transaction between two private citizens for any purpose. His attorney was similarly shocked and dismayed.
Attorney and former Suffield First Selectman, Scott Lingenfelter has called upon the current First Selectman to TERMINATE the employment of the Zoning Enforcement Officer, Jim Taylor. Here is a portion of his email:
“I understand that Jim Taylor has a grudge against the Morminos and has had a vendetta against them for some time. His lies and misrepresentations over the course of the last year plus are unacceptable and have cost the Town of Suffield financially, as well as negatively impacted the Town from a public perception standpoint. The actions are now illegal and may put the town in serious jeopardy. If the Town is now interfering with a private transaction, then you need to step up and take charge as First Selectman. This cannot continue. Jim Taylor’s improper conduct cannot continue and he needs to be disciplined.
I beg of you to show some leadership and stop Mr. Taylor from his continued improper conduct. At this point, nothing short of termination is acceptable.
I would like a copy of all invoices from Attorney Smith to the Town of Suffield for services rendered related to the Mormino matter, so that we can see what Jim’s actions have cost the town so far. Sincerely, Scott R. Lingenfelter, Esq.”
If you are inclined to write or call any of the players in this pointless drama, they can be reached as follows (all of this information is public record)
Zoning Enforcement officer: Jim Taylor, email@example.com 860-668-3848
The town’s first selectman, Ed McAnaney, firstname.lastname@example.org 860-668-3838
The town’s attorney, Paul Smith, 27 S. Main St, Windsor Locks, CT attorneyPaulSmith@hotmail.com 06096, 860-627-0513
The complaining neighbors are Karl and Sarah Stursberg, 493 South Stone Street, West Suffield, CT 06093 (which was put on the record in the zoning hearing, see video above)
ZONING Commission Members:
Frank Bauchiero Jr, Zoning Comm Chair: 316 North Grand St, West Suffield, CT 06093
John J. Murphy: 371 N. Main St, Suffield, CT 06078
Mark Winne: 585 N Main St, Suffield, CT 06078
Charles Sheehan: 21 Lise Circle, Suffield, CT 06078
Without my chickens I would have no blog or Facebook page & could not continue to bring you the experiences, photos, information & chicken-related entertainment you have become accustomed to seeing from me.
Questions about the character of my yard, neighborhood and town are answered with this link to Google Street Maps where you can literally drive around and see my property (it has the kids’ white playhouse/swing set in the backyard) and the complaining neighbor’s house to the right of it. Drive down the street and around town to check out all the farms, horses and chickens!
THE END OF THE LAWSUIT
On November 12, 2014, we purchased three acres of completely USELESS wetlands (with the funds raised from selling pink flamingos) from a very reluctant property owner who had not been the least bit interested in selling the land. The additional 3 acres qualified our property to be classified as a farm, upon which we can now keep any and all animals we’d like. We can have a herd of cattle, a horse ranch, even a rooster sanctuary if we wish! The insanity of this exercise in municipal futility is that we STILL only use ~1/4 acre of our 2 acres of usable land for keeping chickens. NOTHING has changed about the character, size or fitness of our property for keeping chickens.
In February, 2015, the town of Suffield Withdrew their lawsuit against us and issued the following apology letter, which I demanded as part of the settlement agreement.