Chickens move forward

Published 10:16 pm Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The fight to enable more Suffolk residents to keep chickens in their backyards is moving forward, despite a tied vote of support in a committee.

The Planning Commission’s committee on ordinances voted 2-2 on Tuesday to bring a recommendation to the full commission supporting the move.

“I think we need to leave well enough alone right now,” said commissioner Ronnie Rountree, one of the committee members who voted against the move.

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Despite the failed vote, the full commission voted later in the day at its meeting to hear a report next month.

Supporters at the meeting said they would not give up the fight.

“I think you should understand it’s not going to go away,” said Rebecca Franklin. “It is a movement forward. It is not a movement backward.”

A group of citizens has been working for months to get the support of city leaders. Currently, chickens are only allowed in certain zoning districts — agricultural, rural estate and rural residential — which make up nearly 68 percent of the city’s land area.

Supporters want the zoning districts where chickens are allowed to be expanded. For example, if they were allowed in residential low density and residential low medium density zoning areas, the land area where they are allowed would increase by 6 percent.

Supporters have given many reasons why they would like to keep chickens in their backyards. Some simply enjoy them as pets, but a big draw is the ability to get fresh eggs every day.

“They’re tired of feeding their kids nothing but antibiotics and hormones from the stuff you buy at the store,” Randy Bowen, a supporter, said at Tuesday’s meeting about the group of supporters as a whole. “There’s a lot more support you don’t hear about, because people are afraid to speak up.”

Even if eventually approved, the ordinance would hold chicken owners to certain standards. Any ordinance drafted likely would prevent owners from having roosters, limit them to a certain number (six seems to be the standard in nearby cities), and place restrictions on things such as the size of the coop and setbacks from the property line.

A minimum lot size also would likely be a condition. Commissioner James Vacalis, who was one of the committee votes in favor of moving forward, said he preferred 15,000 square feet, but Franklin said she feels that is too big and that 10,000 square feet would be fine.

Some commissioners have also said they think allowing chickens will lead to other animals also being allowed.

“Chickens are not a gateway to other animals,” Franklin said, adding that she agrees animals such as goats and pigs would be destructive.

Rountree said Tuesday he is concerned about diseases carried by chickens that can be transmitted to humans.

“Health reasons are the main thing,” he said. “I feel we’re getting ready to strike a match.”

The November Planning Commission meeting will take place Nov. 15.