Cambridge doesn’t permit chickens. This couple is combating to maintain theirs.

The Boston Globe

The town might permit fowl as quickly as this fall if a long-awaited zoning modification passes.

Susan Filene held a hen named Loretta as she stood beside her husband, Robert Filene, as they posed for a portrait in entrance of the hen coop of their yard. JESSICA RINALDI/GLOBE STAFF

CAMBRIDGE — For six years, Susan and Robert Filene’s yard chickens have been doing what chickens do greatest: consuming pests, producing compost, and laying eggs — upwards of 700 a yr. In that point, the Filenes, each 81, say they haven’t had a single criticism from neighbors.

So, it got here as a shock once they obtained a letter from town in early July informing them that their chickens had been in violation of the zoning code and ordering them to do away with the birds — or pay $300 in fines. A day.

The Filenes panicked. They thought of liquidating their financial savings to pay the fines for so long as doable. They even thought of transferring to Somerville, the place fowl are permitted.

In the end, they determined to remain and push for a change they suppose is lengthy overdue: legalizing hen-keeping within the metropolis. They employed a lawyer to attraction the fines and have been inviting metropolis officers over to fulfill their chickens — six metropolis councilors and the mayor have visited to date.

“[Our son]’s saying, ‘Ma, simply make this your legacy,’” Susan Filene stated. “’You will get this by.’”

The couple’s efforts are paying off: Three metropolis councilors and the mayor launched draft language on the metropolis council assembly earlier this month for a zoning modification that might legalize chicken-keeping. Metropolis employees are presently reviewing the language, and the council is about to contemplate the modification at its Sept. 11 assembly.

If it passes, Cambridge would be a part of the greater than 60 cities and cities throughout the Commonwealth that permit chicken-keeping, together with adjoining Somerville, Brookline, Arlington, and Watertown, in addition to some Boston neighborhoods, based on an inventory maintained by the Northeast Natural Farming Affiliation.

Proponents say chicken-keeping can fortify native meals programs and help a nutritious diet, and correct laws can mitigate opposed well being impacts from unhygienic birds.

“We shouldn’t get in the best way of individuals offering themselves with meals,” stated councilor Quinton Zondervan, one of many coverage order’s co-sponsors. “Fining them once they do it anyway, I believe, is an injustice.”

However chicken-keeping has a historical past of ruffling some Cantabrigians’ feathers.

In 2010, controversy ensued when a Riverside resident complained to town about disagreeable odors wafting within the co-op subsequent door, the place tenants had been preserving chickens and geese. The neighbors appealed, resulting in a colourful, three-hour-long listening to earlier than the board of zoning appeals that 90 residents attended.

Regardless of a petition with greater than 600 signatures in help, the board denied the residents’ attraction, doubling down on the birds’ illegality. With town council on the time bored with passing an modification, the residents had no selection however to donate their birds to a farm, stated Blake Brasher, one of many appellants.

“We actually considered them as pets,” Brasher stated. “The geese particularly had a variety of persona, and it was actually unhappy to should do away with them.”

“I believe town was traumatized a little bit bit by that,” Zondervan stated of the 2010 dispute. “That form of sealed the deal for some time that we’re simply not going to permit this factor.”

Hen-keeping returned as a problem in 2015, when town shaped an city agriculture activity pressure and recognized it as one in every of three precedence coverage areas, alongside beekeeping and permitting the sale of agricultural merchandise.

However there was extra urgency round legalizing beekeeping, so chicken-keeping “fell by the wayside,” although the duty pressure discovered “actually not vocal opposition” to the apply in its outreach course of, stated Iram Farooq, Cambridge’s assistant metropolis supervisor for neighborhood growth.

“It was not an intentional ‘let’s not do that.’ It was extra that there have been different issues that ended up being extra pressing,” she stated.

Regardless of the difficulty’s rocky document, proponents are hoping for a clean street to legalization this time round, now that chicken-keeping has extra help from elected officers than it did a decade in the past.

“[The amendment] would want 5 votes to move, and I believe the votes are there,” stated Metropolis Councilor Marc McGovern.

Placing laws and a allowing course of in place would additionally mitigate well being dangers from chicken-keeping which may be taking place “underneath the radar,” he added.

Per the modification’s draft language, roosters could be prohibited, flocks could be capped at a dozen chickens, and hen keepers would want a allow from the general public well being division.

“By regulating it … it’s simply higher for everyone, together with the animals,” McGovern stated.

The Filenes maintain up their flock for example of how chicken-keeping could be performed responsibly and in a approach that advantages the surroundings.

Their seven chickens — Walnut, Rocky, Loretta, Annie, Little Crimson, Salem, and Meadow — dwell in two wood coops, the place they take pleasure in ice water in the summertime and heated water bowls within the winter. For one supervised hour every day, the birds vary freely within the yard, throughout which they munch on their favourite grub: slugs, ticks, and mosquito larvae.

Due to the chickens’ prodigious pest-eating — and the fertile manure they produce — the remainder of the Filenes’ burgeoning city farm is prospering, too. Their backyard now yields nearly all the greens, garlic, onions, and herbs they eat, amongst different crops like delicata squash and cherry tomatoes. After which there are the eggs: round 5 a day in peak season, greater than sufficient for all of the family’s wants.

The chickens are “a cornerstone of the farm,” stated Laura Stenzel. She and her husband, Amer Koudsi, have rented a first-floor unit within the Filenes’ home for a number of years and often work of their backyard. “They’re powerhouses.”

They’re additionally beloved pets, every with a definite persona — Rocky is a “mafia boss,” Susan Filene jokes. They’ve even been round for necessary life occasions, like Stenzel and Koudsi’s digital wedding ceremony, held within the Filenes’ yard in 2020. “The chickens had been the bridesmaids,” Susan Filene stated.

To maintain the birds, the Filenes are shelling out 1000’s in authorized charges for an appeals lawyer, to not point out the numerous hours rallying metropolis officers to their trigger. However it’s a burden they are saying they’re completely happy to shoulder on behalf of town’s different hen keepers, present and future.

“Different individuals I do know who’ve chickens in Cambridge are youthful, have jobs, don’t have the time,” Susan Filene stated. “We now have the assets, so if we may also help all people who has chickens or may need to have chickens, I’m glad that it’s us and that we will try this.”

For Brasher, who says shedding his personal attraction in 2010 looks like “a lifetime in the past,” seeing the modification move could be a long-awaited victory.

“I’m glad to listen to that one thing’s taking place,” he stated. “I’d say it’s about time.”

A earlier model of this text misstated the situation of the unit rented by Laura Stenzel and Amer Koudsi within the Filenes’ home.