No chickens next door

Published 7:04 pm Saturday, June 4, 2016

Choosing a place to live involves a huge variety of trade-offs. There is probably no place on Earth — and surely not in Suffolk — that checks every box on the list of desires for a homeowner moving to an area.

Setting aside the remote possibility of finding the perfect house, there are always sacrifices that have to be made from the list of desires. Want a pool? It’ll cost you extra insurance and upkeep, unless it’s a community pool, in which case you’ll probably pay a membership fee or have to put up with a homeowners’ association. Want easy and quick access to shopping? Don’t move to the country. Want to be isolated? Prepare to have to drive a while to go to the grocery store.

The whole purpose of zoning laws within a city is to make sure that folks don’t use their properties in ways that will clash with their neighbors. Industrial areas, for example, are set up to keep factories out of neighborhoods. And residential areas are set up to keep neighbors from complaining about the noise and traffic associated with commercial and industrial uses.

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Similarly, agricultural areas of Suffolk were designed to keep the noise, odor and traffic associated with those areas from impinging on nearby homes. The protection also works the other way around: Folks who choose to live in areas that are zoned for agricultural uses should have some expectation that they’ll be subjected to the smell of fertilizer, the noises that animals and machinery make and the slight travel delays that come from getting behind tractors on rural roads.

Suffolk’s recent controversy regarding “household chickens” is a simple zoning issue that has been turned into something far more complicated by those who — just so they can indulge their desires for fresh eggs — wish to ignore the fact that they chose to live in parts of the city that ban keeping livestock.

There’s nothing wrong with fresh eggs, of course. That’s one of the great things about the city’s farmers markets. There, residents can find fresh, locally laid eggs, along with vegetables, fruit, honey and lots of other produce and products of small farms around the region.

It’s likely that a half-dozen or so hens that are well kept and whose coops and runs are carefully maintained would cause few problems for most neighbors. Perhaps a cow in the backyard, or a couple of pigs, would have a similarly low impact if their owners were conscientious about raising them.

But the zoning laws in Suffolk are meant to protect residents from neighbors who might not be so conscientious and to protect the city from having to negotiate the slippery slope that could occur if it gave ground on the allowed uses of properties in areas of various zoning types.

Allowing chickens in residential areas of the city could lead to just that kind of slippery slope, and it would certainly result in squabbles between neighbors that could be avoided if everyone just followed the laws that already have been set up to govern the areas where they live.

There are plenty of places in the city where folks can live and raise chickens. Those who want to do so should move to one of those areas.