ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Mary-Beth Bouchard, a Clovis chicken owner, is saying no to what she called a “trojan horse variance” given to her by the city last week.
“They gave me a gift and they started a war,” Bouchard said. “They are asking me to sign my rights away. And they are trying to impose laws on me that nobody else in town has.”
Bouchard, who said she has kept chickens at her home for more than 13 years, was charged with seven counts of violating a city ordinance regarding poultry locations restrictions on June 29, but she believes she has not broken any law.
The ordinance states: “No person shall keep poultry within 100 feet of any residence or business establishment, except for the residence or business establishment of a person owning or controlling the poultry.”
Since receiving the citation, Bouchard has appeared in municipal court and pleaded not guilty to the charges, and she’s taken several steps to try to resolve the situation with the city in order to keep her chickens.
Last week the city presented Bouchard with a copy of an agreement for variance, which would allow her to deviate from the limits of the ordinance, but Bouchard believes the conditions are unfair and may infringe on her civil rights.
One of her biggest objections to the variance is that it spells out that the agreement “shall terminate at the end of three years … at the end of the three-year period, all poultry shall be removed from the property and owner shall comply with all existing zoning and/or animal control ordinances.”
“My disability (a bad back) is progressive; I will be 56, disabled, and on a fixed income, and will need the eggs more then than now,” Bouchard said. “I am fighting this because I need the eggs and I’m going to need them more.”
The variance also includes a zoning code that Bouchard was not cited for or being tried for; the variance added her husband to the document, who is not on the citation and is not the owner or controlling party of the property or chickens; a condition states “no replacement animals shall be taken in at the residence,” which Bouchard said could be interpreted to include her service dog, not just her poultry; Bouchard’s residence would be subject to quarterly inspections by animal control, who would have the authority to rescind the variance at any time if they found her residence out of compliance; and if a neighbor or occupant within 300 feet filed a complaint against the poultry she would be forced to remove the chickens within 30 days.
“Why in my right mind would I sign this?” Bouchard said. “They put that they can come in my home or any part of my property and make sure that I meet codes. How is this fair?”
After consulting with a lawyer, Bouchard decided not to sign the document, and she made an appointment to meet with the city manager to ask that her property be “grandfathered in,” meaning she should be allowed to keep the chickens since she believes she had them prior to the city ordinance.
“I am going to ask for the grandfather in, and if it goes to court we go from there,” Bouchard said. “They can, and they have grandfathered people in the past. And I want all charges dropped, and I want to be able to keep the chickens.”
City Manager Larry Fry confirmed he is scheduled to meet with Bouchard today, but he was not yet sure what Bouchard wanted to discuss, or if she could be grandfathered in.
“I don’t know what will happen at this point,” Fry said.
Bouchard is set to go to trial Aug. 18 in front of Municipal Judge Jan Garrett.
Bouchard said she is prepared to call upon witnesses, including government employees who were aware Bouchard had chickens at her home before the citation.
“I have more rights in a trial than they are giving me,” Bouchard said.
©2015 the Clovis News Journal (Clovis, N.M.)
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