Public Hearing on New Keeping of Animals Regulations Scheduled for February 6

By Ann Kiessling, Ph.D.

The Bedford Board of Health began revising its Keeping of Animals regulations a year ago, and for the past several months has worked with attorney Cheryl Sbarra of the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards on the final draft, which has been posted on the Bedford Board of Health website: https://www.bedfordma.gov/sites/bedfordma/files/file/file/boh_koa_final_draft_for_hearing.pdf.

While Bedford’s Board of Health has been revising its regulations, attorney Sbarra has also participated in a state working group with representatives from the Massachusetts Departments of Agricultural Resources and Public Health, the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation, the Massachusetts Agricultural Commission and Boards of Health Directors and farmers from around the Commonwealth to develop new state-wide guidelines for Keeping of Animals regulations.  The current draft of those state-wide guidelines contains many suggestions, including public notifications, posting the draft in town hall, and ample opportunity for local public comment before the regulations are voted on by the Board of Health.  As a result of the deliberations by the working group, the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation has filed new legislation:

HD2574 – An Act Relative to Agricultural Commission Input on Board of Health Regulations
Boards of Health (BOHs) have very broad authority and are often put in the position of regulating both commercial and non-commercial farming activities. Unfortunately, there is typically very little knowledge of agriculture on BOHs, and the resulting regulations are inappropriate or too restrictive.
This bill would require that Agricultural Commissions be given 45 days to review BOH regulations impacting agriculture and make recommendations to the BOH. More than half the municipalities in the Commonwealth have created Agricultural Commissions at Town Meetings.

At the Bedford’s Board of Health meeting Jan 9, Director Heidi Porter revealed a plan to mail the current draft to all Keeping of Animals’ Permit holders (approximately 10 in Bedford) before the public hearing and possible vote on February 6, at 7 pm in a meeting room in the Town Center building.

Bedford’s revised regulations are shorter and thought by the Board to be easier to understand than the original regulations which have been in place since the mid-1960s.  According to Tom Kinzer, a fifteen-year veteran of the Board of Health who is retiring this spring, one of the goals of the new regulations is to be more supportive of Bedford residents interested in keeping backyard farm animals, such as chickens, although according to the proposed regulations chickens could not be bred in Bedford because roosters are outlawed.  The proposed regulations include the new possibility of regulating commercial farms in Bedford, which are not now required to obtain a permit.

Bedford residents seeking a permit would need the permission of the Conservation Commission and the Zoning Board on the permit application and present their plan to the Board of Health at a public hearing about which abutters within 300 feet would have to have been notified by mail.  These requirements are not in Keeping of Animals regulations in other towns in the absence of new construction, and the specified abutter distance is generally used for proposed subdivisions by the Bedford Planning Board and is in excess of other Bedford guidelines such as 100 feet for the historic district and the Conservation Commission.

Permits would have a fee, need to be renewed annually, perhaps with another public hearing, and violations subject to a daily fine of $1,000, the maximum allowed by MGL Chapter 111, Sec 31.

Editor’s Note: Author Ann Kiessling is a candidate running unopposed for a seat on the Bedford Board of Health in the March 11 Town Election.


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