HOPKINTON — They say the rooster crows at dawn, and for a set of neighbors along North Road, the crowing has led to a dispute over the language and purpose of a nuisance abatement regulation in the town’s Code of Ordinances.
Jeremy and Jenelle Palmer, who own a home and 3 acres of property at 89 North Road, were recently issued three tickets by the Hopkinton police after receiving a series of complaints by their adjacent neighbors regarding the early morning crowing of two roosters acquired by the couple earlier this year. Now the couple is fighting back, and they are finding support from those in the community.
“We aren't going to just pay the fines; we aren't going to lay down on this issue,” Jeremy Palmer said in a phone interview this week. “We have been here three years and are zoned for both farming and residential. All we want is to maintain a simple form of life that the land was purposed for.”
Hopkinton Police Capt. Mark Carrier said the confrontation started in September when William Palmer, of 83 North Road, contacted the department to report an animal nuisance. The two Palmer families are not related.
Carrier said the department began investigating after William Palmer and his wife Christine filed a formal complaint in mid-September, several weeks before the first ticket was issued. The two stated that the roosters were crowing as early as 4:30 and 5 a.m., waking them up and affecting their quality of life.
The complainants could not be reached for comment.
Jeremy and Jenelle, like many other residents of Hopkinton, live in an RFR-80 zone, which allows residential and agricultural uses, including ownership of livestock such as roosters, town officials said.
They have had their first rooster, named Hopkinton, for about three years and said he has always remained quiet. They took in two additional roosters earlier this year. They are not quiet.
After investigation and observation, the department officials came to the conclusion that they had no choice but to issue a ticket, citing the couple for the first time on Oct. 2.
Police records show that more than 60 complaints have now been made by William and Christine Palmer, including several against other neighbors who also have roosters. One of those tickets was issued to residents of 79 North Road.
“What we found is that while they are properly zoned and have every right to own their roosters, the noise was in violation of the town’s ordinance as it is written,” Carrier said.
Under section 4-8 of the ordinances, titled animal nuisance abatement, “the keeping or harboring of any animal, whether licensed or not, which by habitual howling, yelping, barking or other noises disturbs or annoys two or more persons in a neighborhood, after a complaint to that effect has been filed with the police department and animal control officer, is unlawful and is hereby declared to be a public nuisance and each subsequent day shall constitute a separate offense.”
The police said the ordinance does not provide exceptions of any kind, even for farm animals on a property zoned for farming. Carrier said the department offered to mediate, but “one of the two parties declined.”
Additional tickets were issued on Oct. 4 and Oct. 10 before the department gave a summons to Jeremy and Jenelle Palmer for a hearing before a municipal court judge in Hopkinton Town Hall. The hearing is set for 10 a.m. on Nov. 2. Each offense carries a $10 fine per offense under the ordinance and can be issued as frequently as once per day. Police records show that the tickets were issued at 4:58 a.m., 6:20 a.m. and 6:33 a.m.
Carrier said the department has also informed both couples that it will not issue any additional tickets before to a ruling. The police have also reached out to the town solicitor for clarification and guidance.
“We aren't taking sides here. We need to act accordingly,” Carrier said. “We have acted upon the complaints, which continue to come every day, and have put a stay on the matter until a ruling is returned.”
Jeremy Palmer said Tuesday that he also tried to remediate the issue with his neighbors, but was told to leave. He said he has not returned to their property.
Jeremy and Jenelle Palmer went public with the issue last week following receipt of the second ticket and have since received an outpouring of support on social media, as well as from those in the community.
State Sen. Elaine Morgan, R-Ashaway, reached out to them via Facebook, and the couple said both Morgan and Michael Geary, of Bradford, an independent candidate for the 38th House District seat, stopped by to see how they could help.
The couple has also received more than 100 comments offering support on a Hopkinton-based Facebook forum and have started a petition for support through the website MoveOn.org, which as of 2 p.m. Wednesday had already received 737 signatures of support from residents throughout the region.
Jeremy and Jenelle said their goal isn’t to start any trouble, but simply to protect their rights and the rights of others who may face future problems.
“We want to keep our roosters and we want to maintain our way of life,” Jeremy Palmer said. “If we are forced to give up our rooster because of what they do naturally, then what will be taken away next?”