Everybody needs a holiday, so the members of the Corte Madera Town Council would no doubt like to take some time off. They'll ease into the end of 2011 with a relatively quiet agenda for Tuesday night's meeting. Things are expected to heat up again in January, though.
The Town Council, with new Mayor Bob Ravasio and Vice-Mayor Diane Furst, still has to tie up some loose ends on issues that have been a constant concern for years.
One issue that has threatened to pit neighbor against neighbor is the ongoing battle over the keeping of chickens and bees on private property. The Town Council has endorsed changes to legislation that would allow residents to keep chickens (but not roosters) and maintain beehives.
"We should allow people to have bees and chickens. They should have the right to enjoy their property. Dogs and cats can be a nuisance. Why treat them that much differently than chickens and bees?" asked Council member Alexandra Cock. "There is a blight ordinance and a nuisance ordinance in effect now. That gives us some power to go in and provide notice to neighbors."
The Town Council suggested residents should be able to keep chickens and bees on larger lots under a permitted use agreement, while there would need to be a conditional use permit for smaller lots.
"The question I asked when I first looked at this was 'Would everyone suddenly go out and get chickens and bees?' The answer was no. Raising animals requires a lot of time and effort and not a lot of people can do that. We have to approach this seriously. The risk of Corte Madera turning into 'Farmville' is small," Ravasio said.
Ravasio compared Corte Madera's ordinance to the relaxed rules in Ross: "My concern is Corte Madera is different than Ross. We have smaller lots, we are higher density. If we look at the numbers of bees and chickens on small lots, there is too much potential noise and density. For smaller lots, we need some kind of conditional use. For larger lots, there can be a permitted use."
Al Cordova, attorney for the Fafoutis family, who have been the primary opponents to easing the legislation, agreed the issue is whether the keeping of bees should be a permitted or conditional use.
"Bees fly and can't be contained. The keeping of bees is a community activity in that it affects the entire community," Cordova said. He added that lot size does not account for all factors and suggested that each use be considered on a case-by-case basis. He cautioned that a permitted use might potentially expose the town to liability.
The commission had drafted a proposal that said residents could keep up to eight chickens on parcels of land 7,500 square feet or less, up to 12 chickens on a parcel of land between 7,500 square feet and an acre, or up to 20 chickens on more than an acre.
The same proposal suggested beekeepers could have two colonies on less than a 1/4 acre of land, up to four colonies on land between 1/4 and a full acre, or eight colonies on more than an acre of land.
Councilmember Michael Lappert wanted to make sure residents weren't starting home-based businesses and circumventing business and food production guidelines.
Furst and Councilmember Carla Condon asked the Corte Madera Planning Commission to add regulations about using "best practices" to maintain a clean, healthy and quiet environment.
A revised version of the legislation is likely to make its way back to the Town Council in January.