Backyard chickens cause fuss in Port

I went to visit this boy last night. I hope I can help him out.

Boy crushed by city's order to remove 35 birds

By Katie Curley
Staff writer

NEWBURYPORT — Ian Engelstein is passionate about caring for animals and one day hopes to become a farmer.

Over the past two years, his mother Jodi, father Dan and brother Evan have helped him acquire and care for 38 chickens in the backyard of his Curzon Mill Road home as training for his future career.

"He has always loved animals since he was a child," Jodi Engelstein said, noting she has been home schooling Ian for years and keeping the pets was part of the learning process. "When he was little at school, he was always the first one to volunteer and take the baby chicks home."

Engelstein, 15, is now at the center of a neighbor dispute after a neighbor complained to the city.

"On Monday we got a card stuck to our door from Building Inspector Gary Calderwood saying we had to get rid of our chickens," Engelstein said.

Since then, the Engelsteins have tried to speak with Calderwood and come to some compromise, but the city says the ordinance must be enforced.

"They live in a residential area and that doesn't allow for agricultural animals," Mayor John Moak said Friday. "There was a ruling done a number of years ago which centered around City Councilor Tom Jones and involved horses. You are allowed to keep a small number of animals as pets but more than that few number and you are running a farm."

In 2003 after five years of legal battles that pitted Low Street residents Tom Jones and Terry Berns against their neighbors, the state Appeals Court decided that Jones and Berns could keep their four horses as pets.

"Gary told (the Engelsteins) they can have three chickens," Moak said. "He has begun to go above the pet stage and he is running a farm. He lives in a residential neighborhood not zoned as a farm."

Moak said the city does not typically go into people's backyards looking for ordinance violations but instead waits for neighbors to complain.

"We don't make a point of going into people's backyards; it is on a matter on complaints," Moak said.

Raising poultry in residential and urban neighborhoods has become a fast-growing phenomenon across the nation. Many cities have passed rules allowing residents to have them, while in others the battle to change zoning laws continues.

The Engelsteins say the chickens are kept in a 15-foot-square cage and are far away from neighbors. They live on a half-acre parcel next to Interstate 95, in a neighborhood with similarly sized lots.

"The neighbors on our left don't mind them," Engelstein said. "We don't have a neighbor on the other side, it's just the ones in the back and they have always had a problem with what we're doing."

Engelstein noted other disputes over baseballs being hit into their backyards over the years has increased the tension.

Jodi Engelstein believes the complaint stemmed from when her son Ian was away at camp and she and her husband were taking care of the chickens.

"We have two roosters," Engelstein said. "Roosters crow, that's nature. We would have gotten rid of the roosters if they had talked to us rather than file a compliant."

The Engelsteins have no idea what they will do with their chickens, and say what hurts the most is that the neighbors decided to complain to the city rather than speak to them directly.

"We would have compromised," Engelstein said. "People are just desensitized, they build fences rather than talk. It is just a kid who loves chickens."

Meanwhile, Ian Engelstein says he will continue to work at a Seabrook pet store and hopes to somehow continue raising his chickens.

He has started a petition that he planned to circulate throughout the city. The petition asks people to sign who feel strongly that Newburyport residents should be able to keep more than three chickens in their yards.

"We'll wait and see," Ian Engelstein said. "I was hoping to sell eggs and watch them grow. I don't know what we are going to do with them. We have to find them good homes."

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