Waterford allows residents to keep birds and rabbits in their yards

Kristine Wilcox's two pet geese; Luna, left, and Emma, graze in their Waterford yard Wednesday, May 9, 2018.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Kristine Wilcox's two pet geese; Luna, left, and Emma, graze in their Waterford yard Wednesday, May 9, 2018. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Waterford — The town's Planning and Zoning Commission has changed Waterford's rules on backyard birds and rabbits after a Waterford woman's successful fight to keep two Emden geese in her backyard.

The commission's members voted after a public hearing Monday to amend the zoning rules for residential properties, allowing up to two hens, geese, ducks or rabbits per 7,500 square feet on the property.

The new rules, which go into effect July 2, represent the first provision in Waterford's zoning code for backyard animals on residential properties. Previously, the rules only forbade farming on any property smaller than 120,000 square feet, making any backyard-dwelling pets a violation by default.

That meant Kristine Wilcox, who had been keeping two blue-eyed Emden geese in her Vivian Street backyard, was found to be in violation of the town's zoning regulations after a neighbor complained that the birds' food was attracting rats.

Wilcox fought back against the town zoning official's decision in April before the Zoning Board of Appeals, arguing the geese were pets. On May 3, the board decided the geese violated Waterford's rules, leaving Wilcox with the option to either appeal the decision in New London Superior Court or apply for a change to the rule through the town's planning staff.

She chose the latter, slightly amending a drafted amendment that planning department staff wrote when a spike in inquiries about backyard fowl made them realize that a rule change would soon be necessary.

The new rules the Planning and Zoning Commission approved Monday stipulate that backyard animals must live in a fenced-in area, and that food must be stored securely so it doesn't attract vermin or predators. No more than two hens, geese, ducks or rabbits per 7,500 square feet, and no more than 10 animals on a residential property, are allowed.

The new rules do not allow for roosters or other species of birds.

Town Planning Director Abby Piersall said rabbits were added to the amendment because zoning officials suspect many people might already keep their leporine pets in backyards and should be covered under the rules.

Residents who wish to keep fowl or rabbits in their backyards will be required to apply for a permit through the town's zoning office. Wilcox said she plans to move her geese's shelter from the side yard of her house to comply with the new rules and will apply for a permit "the first day it's available."

Piersall encouraged people already keeping animals in their backyards to ask planning staff if they need a permit.

"If there's folks out there who ... have chickens or hens, or if they have questions, now is the time to come in," she said. "We're not going on a chicken hunt here."

Wilcox said she might celebrate with her geese, Emma and Luna, by giving them their favorite snacks of watermelon and collard greens.

"I'm glad it's over," she said.

m.shanahan@theday.com

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