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Council: No limits on chickens for now

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Friday, August 17, 2018

El­iz­a­beth City City Coun­cil agreed Mon­day to take a fresh look at the city’s chicken or­di­nance, hold­ing off on re­strict­ing the birds’ num­bers on res­i­den­tial prop­erty and deciding a broader re­view of poul­try or­di­nances is needed.

City resident Sharon Wilson drew the council's attention to chickens last month, complaining of a neighbor's backyard poultry. The birds are so numerous and their pens so filthy that they've created an “unbearable” condition for her, Wilson claimed. She asked the city to restrict the number of chickens that can be raised at a residence, arguing they belong on farms, not in backyards.

Council considered an ordinance to do just that on Monday, but held up after hearing Wilson's neighbors respond to her claims during the meeting's public comment period.

Sheri Power read a statement from her husband, Ed, whom she said was absent due to military deployment. The Powers contend that Wilson has pursued a “personal vendetta” against them, and that they've complied with city requests to keep their chicken pens clean.

While not speaking directly to the neighbors' dispute, City Manager Rich Olson said the city currently has no limits on how many chickens someone may raise on their property. There are limits on other animals, he said, but poultry and rabbits are exempt.

The draft ordinance Olson offered council Monday would limit the number of chickens based upon property size. Olson’s reasoning is that the more poultry someone has, the more space they need to keep the animals in sanitary conditions.

Under the draft ordinance, properties up to 6,000 square feet could have four poultry animals, properties up to 8,000 square feet could have eight poultry animals, and properties over 8,000 square feet could have no more than 12.

According to city officials, the Powers have about two dozen chickens.

Were Olson’s draft ordinance to pass, poultry owners would have 18 months to reduce their number of animals. City Attorney Bill Morgan noted the 18-month-period matches the lifespan of an egg-laying chicken, allowing owners to let animals die off rather than get rid of them.

Councilor Darius Horton made a motion not to advance the ordinance, however. Chickens don't appear to causing many complaints citywide, he said. He also questioned if a new law would truly resolve anything between Wilson and the Powers.

“This ordinance I don't believe is going to help solve the personal problem,” Horton said.

Although councilors agreed with Horton not to advance the ordinance Monday night, Councilors Anita Hummer and Johnnie Walton said the city still needs to address poultry regulations.

Hummer said limiting the number of chickens doesn't directly address the cleanliness of their pens, which has led to the odor issues Wilson raised. She called for the city to reconsider a separate ordinance which requires cleaning pens every two days.

Alluding to Horton's comment that few people complain about chickens, Walton said not every city resident lives next to them. Those that do deserve the same quality of life others have, he said.

“We need to address all of the issues, not just the number,” Walton said.

Councilor Gabriel Adkins agreed, and councilors voted to instruct city staff to research and bring back more comprehensive recommendations on regulating poultry.

The vote was unanimous, except that councilors recused Councilor Jeannie Young from the vote. Young said she should be recused from the vote because her daycare has chickens.

That review will also include an issue Olson raised: city residents selling their chickens' eggs. Selling poultry and eggs for others' consumption, rather than just the owners', triggers different food and health regulations, he said.

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