Backyard hens lay an egg

Published 10:25 pm Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The issue of backyard hens has been laid to rest, at least for now.

After more than a year of discussion and hearing 15 speakers in a public hearing on the topic, City Council failed to pass an ordinance that would expand the areas in which backyard hens can be kept in Suffolk.

At least two-thirds of the 15 speakers were in favor of the ordinance. Many of them have been coming to meetings as the issue has been discussed for many months, and several were visibly upset after the hearing.

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“It’s just disappointing,” said Rebecca Franklin, who had led the charge to expand the areas where hens can be kept. Supporters had been told to come to meeting after meeting, she said, and in the end, “The response is that our effort doesn’t matter.”

Currently, chickens are permitted only in agricultural or rural zoning districts. The proposed ordinance would have allowed them to be kept in the Residential Low Density and Residential Low-Medium Density residential districts, with restrictions.

Chicken owners would have been restricted from owning roosters. The could have no more than six hens and must have a 15,000-square-foot-minimum lot size.

The minimum lot size became one sticking point for some City Council members on Wednesday.

Councilman Tim Johnson made a motion to approve the ordinance but to lower the minimum lot size to 10,000 square feet, opening up chicken-keeping to more properties.

Other council members said they wouldn’t support the ordinance with a 10,000-square-foot minimum, so Johnson changed it back to 15,000. But as it turned out, the vote won only the support of Councilman Mike Duman anyway.

Residents on both sides of the issue spoke passionately about it during the public hearing.

“I don’t see how my six hens that I’d like to have would harm anybody,” said Millicent Dove, who lives in Westhaven Lakes.

But Maria Herbert said she didn’t believe chickens belong in residential areas.

“They are agricultural animals, no matter how you define them,” she said. She worried about the smell, pests chickens might draw and the eyesore she believes chicken coops create.

“They don’t know whose yard they are supposed to roam in,” she said. “I think it’s better to head it off and keep things the way it is.

Many supporters said they would rather live next door to chickens than to a dog.

“If I had to choose between living next door to a dog and living next door to a chicken, I would choose a chicken hands-down,” Jean Carmean said.

After the tense discussion among council members resulted in the 2-6 vote, supporters, including Franklin, vowed to keep the issue alive, so chickens may be roaming government agendas in Suffolk again.