The City Council passed the backyard hen-keeping ordinance after nearly two years of discussion in an 8-0 vote Tuesday night.
The ordinance, set to take effect November 1, will allow people within city limits to keep up to three hens in their backyard as long as the enclosure is 20 feet away from the nearest neighboring residence, and a license fee of $10 per household and permit fee of $15 per chicken is paid annually.
To read the ordinance, click here.
After 18 members of the community spoke in support of the council adopting the ordinance, and two in opposition, all members of the council voted in favor of adopting the ordinance except one, councilman Darrell Fong, who was not present at the meeting due to a family vacation.
Councilwomen Angelique Ashby, Sandy Sheedy and Bonnie Pannell said that they still have concerns about passing the ordinance, but that they will pass it, holding their caution, and check back in six months.
“I am willing to give it a chance; I’m willing to make sure that we have a report back so that we know it’s working or that it isn’t working, and we can make a final decision at that time,” Sheedy said.
Ashby said her concern was around the question of enforcement, which Reina Schwartz, director for the Department of Animal Care Services, said will be based on complaints by neighbors.
“We either need to do some education, or we need to make sure that the ordinance can be enforced, because we have a quality-of-life issue here on both sides. I want to give people that opportunity,” Ashby said, “but I don’t want that decision to have a negative impact on the quality of life for people who don’t want to have chickens in their backyard.”
Kenneth Caldwell, a resident of Land Park, was one of the few who spoke up in opposition to the ordinance, stating findings from research he conducted on the possible problems that could come from raising chickens in the city. One reason he gave was that chickens could be carriers for a number of diseases, including Avian Influenza and Coccidia.
“Coccidia is a parasite that chickens can contract and can be tracked through their feces,” he said, “The ordinance only indicates that it has to be contained where it can’t smell, and gotten rid of in some appropriate manner,” which he said will end up in our garbage cans, our streets, and then our water.”
Charles Luce, a chemist with a background in antibiotic research who has spoken up in the past in opposition to the ordinance, said, “Hong Kong has a ban- the reason is that they are afraid for the disease to be mutated and translated easily.” If it is, he added, it would be the worst epidemic ever.
“(This disease) has been circulating in Asia since 2003,” said Dr. Glenna Trochet, the county’s Public Health Officer. “It is very deadly, but the likelihood that chickens who are covered is low, and they would need to be exposed to the feces of wild birds.”
Experts she has consulted with multiple times on the topic also added that if the virus were to become transmissible between human beings, it would be brought to the United States by the people.
Many who spoke were for the passing of the ordinance, and multiple representatives of CLUCK (Campaign for the Legalization of Chicken Keeping) spoke at the meeting on the environmental benefits of raising chickens, as well as the sustainability practices it promotes through the education behind where one’s food comes from.
“Yolks from fresh eggs are more nutritious and less expensive in these difficult economic times,” said Joe Calavita, a member of CLUCK. “Chickens can live on one bag of feed and landowners have gardens- you can use that for organic manure. Chickens also eat bugs which eliminates the need for pesticides.”
Councilman Steve Cohn, who has been working with advocacy groups like CLUCK for the last two years, commended everyone who spoke on either side of the issue, and thanked the supporters of the ordinance for their patience.
“I’m glad that we’re finally here,” he said, commenting on the long haul everyone on the council went through to get the ordinance passed, “it’s certainly consistent with the city’s sustainability plan.”