Council may ban chicken raising
By Jon Hawley
Saturday, November 17, 2018
Elizabeth City City Council will consider forbidding the raising of chickens inside the city limits when it meets again later this month.
Councilors voted 4-3 Tuesday night to hold a public hearing on an ordinance that would ban the raising of chickens, reflecting some councilors' concerns that the birds can be a health hazard and nuisance. That public hearing would be set for Dec. 10.
Voting for the chicken ban were Councilors Anita Hummer, Gabriel Adkins, Johnnie Walton and Darius Horton.
Voting against the ban were Councilors Billy Caudle, Jeannie Young and Kem Spence. Councilor Rickey King, council’s mayor pro tem, was absent.
Tuesday's vote is a change of a course from September, when councilors agreed to limit chickens to eight per property. Councilors were set Tuesday to call a public hearing on an ordinance writing that limit into law, but Hummer instead proposed banning chickens outright.
Council started debating the raising of chickens in July, when resident Sharon Wilson complained that chickens belonging to her neighbors, Ed and Sheri Power, were kept in such unsanitary conditions that they stunk up her property and posed health problems.
The Powers have denied Wilson’s claims, and say they've cooperated with the city whenever code enforcement officers stopped by.
Hummer did not detail her reasons for calling for the ban during Tuesday's meeting. In a followup interview, she reiterated her concerns that chickens are a health hazard and that the city's current ordinance, which allows any number of chickens to be raised, is too “wide open.”
Caudle, Young and Spence objected to banning the raising of chickens outright, arguing to do so would be excessive and unfair.
Caudle said the raising of chickens doesn’t appear to be a problem citywide, noting council began reviewing poultry regulations in response to only one resident’s dispute with a neighbor.
“I don't see how we can, based on their fight, basically outlaw chickens for anybody in the whole town that keep their stuff neat and use those eggs and stuff to eat,” Caudle said.
Young similarly noted residents have raised chickens in Elizabeth City for a long time, and most have done so responsibly. The Wilson-Power dispute is a “neighbor issue, not a chicken issue,” she added.
That said, Young said there should be limits on how many chickens a city resident can raise. She supported the council's compromise of eight chickens.
Young has acknowledged she owns chickens and raises them at her daycare. Notably, she asked to be recused from discussing chickens in a council meeting in August — to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest — but has participated in subsequent discussions.
Spence also said it was unfair to tell people they could not raise any chickens. Council would not tell someone they could not have other pets, such as dogs or cats, he said.
Supporting Hummer's motion, however, Walton noted that chickens had caused health concerns for a constituent. He also said it would be time-consuming for city staff to enforce restrictions on the numbers of chickens raised. A resident over the limit would trigger an involved investigative process, he said.
Though not disagreeing with Walton, City Manager Rich Olson told council the city has received only five complaints about chickens in the last five years, and all but one of those had been noise-related, not due to unsanitary conditions.
Olson also noted the city has received as many complaints about turkeys as chickens; turkeys were not addressed in Hummer's motion.
Horton did not explicitly support or oppose banning the raising of chickens. He noted Hummer's proposal was to consider a ban, not implement it. He also asked Olson if other municipalities forbid chickens.
Olson said many municipalities do forbid raising livestock, adding the city could specify chickens under that authority.
After Tuesday's meeting, Hummer said she’s not trying to keep people from earning a livelihood, but stood by her call for an outright ban on raising chickens in the city. Asked about other chicken owners not causing problems — based on the lack of complaints to code enforcement — Hummer invited them to speak at the public hearing.