Chicken Coop = Dispute Gets Personal

By Adam Swift

A debate over the town’s chicken-keeping regulations got personal at last week’s Town Council meeting.

During the meeting’s public speaking portion, resident Vasilios Mallios addressed a nearly year-long battle with Board of Health Chair Bill Schmidt, a family friend, over a violation Schmidt issued for illegally keeping a chicken coop in his front yard.

“First, I want to start off by apologizing, because I cannot believe that I have to waste my time to talk about chickens,” said Mallios.

Mallios questioned the legality of a citation that Schmidt issued on May 4 of this year for the keeping of chickens without a permission. He asked the council if the Board of Health Chair was within his right to issue a citation.

“We received your complaint, and I spoke to Mr. Schmidt about it,” said Town Manager Tony Marino. “There was a little bit of confusion with regard to their own internal policies about the board members going out and enforcing (violations).”

Marino said that Massachusetts General Law does not allow for the board to issue the citations, but the board can request that inspectional services or the town’s health agent investigate a potential violation and issue a citation.

“It’s been explained and I think it is clear now,” said Marino. “Obviously, that ticket will not be enforced.”

Mallios expressed his gratitude to the town manager, but added that he had filed a formal complaint against Schmidt.

“I feel that, I know that I am personally being targeted for this situation because I am defending my opinion,” he said.

Mallios said the situation stretches back over a year, and encompasses Schmidt’s attendance at a family barbecue, as well as opposition to the revised chicken keeping regulations that were approved by the Board of Health late last year.

“Mr. Schmidt was invited over as a guest at a family barbecue,” said Mallios. “Following that, it became Mr. Schmidt, chairman of the Board of Health.”

In the debate over the new chicken coop regulations, which do no allow for the coops in the front yard and require a 10-foot setback from property lines in side yards, Mallios said he sent several emails to the Board of Health, as well as a petition with 285 signatures opposing the location provisions of the regulations.

“For me to spend the last year fighting this is disappointing,” said Mallios, who also asked if the Town Council had the authority to remove appointed officials.

Council President James Letterie said the council did have that right, provided there was cause.

“I suggest that you look into my complaint, because it’s not just me,” said Mallios. “I know that there are others out there who haven’t spoken up, who haven’t sent in complaints. I have filed an information request for every complaint and grievance made against the chairman of the Board of Health.”

Following Mallios, Schmidt used the public speaking portion of the council meeting to address the issue, providing some more context about the regulation regarding the keeping of chickens and bees, as well as the history with Mallios.

Schmidt noted that he was first appointed to the Board of Health in 2016, and at that time, the board was considering new regulations for the keeping of animals. There were several issues that came up, including the Covid pandemic, which delayed the process, he said.

In November of 2021, Schmidt said he began looking at drafting new regulations again, about five months before Mallios got a permit for his chicken coop.

“So this idea that we were going to be eliminating chicken coops from the front yard was way in advance of him having the permit,” said Schmidt.

He added that he has been friends with Mallios’ family for many years and that he was invited over for Greek Orthodox Easter last year.

“It was mentioned that he had chickens, and I was looking around and I didn’t see the chickens,” said Schmidt. “The chickens were in the front yard; Mr. Mallios showed them to me and I said that’s really interesting.”

When he got home, Schmidt said he looked at the existing ordinance, which stated that there needed to be a public hearing before the Board of Health, as well as other restrictions. Schmidt said he informed Mallios that the board was looking at new regulations that wouldn’t allow for the coops in front yards.

“Mr. Mallios sent me a personal email saying basically that there had been some complaints … and he was intending to move it to the side yard,” said Schmidt.

He said the board would lower the side setback for chicken coops to 10 feet to make it easier to place the coop in the side yard.

However, Schmidt said Mallios never ended up moving the chicken coop to the side yard, and made an issue and got some support for allowing coops in front yards.

The Board of Health decision went through a number of public hearings and took into consideration the regulations in other communities before being approved 3-0 by the board.

“My two fellow board members are both nurses, they looked at it from a health issue, and they decided that it did not make sense to have it in the front yard,” said Schmidt. “The vote was 3-0, it wasn’t just me. If anyone is trying to make this a personal issue, it is Mr. Mallios against me because I think he doesn’t like the fact that we made a decision he doesn’t agree with.”

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