FITZWILLIAM — The town's livestock ordinance has come under scrutiny, as a crowing rooster has ruffled feathers here.
Richmond Road resident James T. LaValley says the rooster next door has been disturbing his lifestyle and his business as a landlord — he owns and lives in a three-family home — with its early-morning wake-up calls.
He brought the matter to selectmen's attention in early August, but, unsatisfied with the response, he is looking to the planning board to do something about it.
He wants the board to change parts of the town's livestock ordinance to ban roosters from properties in and around what he considers a densely populated town center. Alternatively, he would like to see the law made stricter so town officials can penalize those whose animals are a nuisance to others, he said Saturday.
Meanwhile, the rooster's owners, Benjamin and Katharine Thomas, say they've taken steps to keep the bird from disturbing the neighborhood, and they have a right to own it.
"It's baffling and also very annoying to us," Ben Thomas said Sunday. "I do everything I can to alleviate the noise, but it's a bird."
That includes having blackout shutters on the chicken coop to lessen the crowing of the rooster in the morning.
However, it's not enough, LaValley says, and he can still hear the rooster early in the morning, before 7 a.m.
"My neighbors truly believe in their ability keep the bird, and for it to crow whenever it wants because it's natural," LaValley said. "I believe that at certain times of the day, I'm entitled to my quiet enjoyment."
He says other people in the neighborhood are frustrated by the situation, but are afraid to speak up.
Thomas, on the other hand, says he's talked with several neighbors who say they like that he and his wife have the rooster and some hens.
If this controversy sounds like deja vu to some Fitzwilliam residents, it is — circa 2009.
Back then, LaValley, along with some neighbors, complained to town officials about the Thomases' rooster Mr. Boots (who has since passed away). Fitzwilliam residents then voted to amend the town's livestock ordinance at the March 2010 town meeting to make it stricter.
The ordinance had already been amended twice before, at town meetings in 2006 and 2008.
As of 2010, livestock and fowl can be kept in any zoning district in Fitzwilliam, as long as owners follow guidelines from the state and University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. Owners must also have livestock and fowl housed in proper shelters, keep manure storage and grazing areas at least 75 feet away from water bodies and wetland areas, keep livestock and fowl on their property at all times, and make every reasonable effort to "ensure that livestock and fowl do not place an undue burden on neighbors by proximity, odor or noise," according to the ordinance.
The selectmen have been charged with enforcing the ordinance, and anyone in violation of it can be fined $10 a day for each offense, according to the town's land use laws.
Besides LaValley's complaint about the Thomases' rooster, the selectmen have received complaints this year about other roosters crowing in town.
Those complaints appear to have been resolved.
In an Aug. 3 letter to the selectmen, Thomas wrote he had previously installed blackout shutters on his chicken coop to reduce the sound of the rooster's crowing, and delay it somewhat past sunrise. The two times LaValley complained to him about the bird crowing were the two times he forgot to close the shutters, Thomas wrote.
At the selectmen's meeting on Aug. 11, Chairman Susan S. Silverman said what the Thomases were doing was in line with the town's livestock ordinance, according to the meeting minutes. While the selectmen could ask them to continue to use the blackout shutters, the board didn't have a way to enforce it, Silverman said at the meeting.
Where LaValley and the Thomases live is a rural residential area where there are houses every few acres. The neighborhood is less than a mile from the Town Hall in one direction and Emerson Elementary School in the other.
LaValley said he doesn't understand why a crowing rooster problem can't be treated like a barking dog issue. He also doesn't believe that roosters belong on residential properties near the center of town, and would like to see the ordinance changed to reflect that, he said.
"Nothing good can come of it," he said.
Thomas disagrees, saying Fitzwilliam's a rural community.
"I can see having an anti-rooster ordinance in a city, but I'm sorry, this is the country," he said.
* The Fitzwilliam Planning Board is scheduled to meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall.