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Chicken proposal concerns panel
Planning commission forwards possible rules to council

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The idea of letting homeowners keep chickens that lay eggs did not go over easy with the Martinsville Planning Commission on Tuesday.

The commission reluctantly voted 5-1 to forward a lengthy list of possible rules to Martinsville City Council, which will consider adopting them and then ruling the roost by issuing special use permits to homeowners.

Several commission members voiced concern over allowing chickens in the city. As the vote was taken, commission member Tiffany Lawrie took a few moments to brood over the rules before casting her vote in favor of them.

“I don’t think it’s a smart idea,” Lawrie said of allowing chickens. But if the city feels the need, having the rules is the way to do it, she said.

Other members echoed her sentiment. They said the decision to send the rules on to the council should not be construed as a recommendation, merely their response to being asked to look at the issue.

More than 120 people signed a petition recently presented to the council, requesting that chickens be allowed in the city. Ordinances currently forbid residents from keeping live poultry.

The planning commission considers zoning and land use issues, and then it makes recommendations to the council on how to handle those issues.

Many cities now allow residents to keep a limited number of chickens that produce eggs for their households, Martinsville officials have said.

Lawrie said she knows of small-scale farmers who deliver eggs to customers. Allowing households to have chickens “takes some of the support” away from those farmers, she said.

City Attorney Eric Monday hatched the proposed rules, based on policies in Salem that he said are the best he has seen.

Commission Chairman Tim Martin, who cast the dissenting vote, indicated he thinks forwarding rules to the council that the commission does not endorse is not right.

Keeping chickens for eggs is not all it is cracked up to be, said commission member John Hale, who made the motion to send the rules to the council.

Chickens are “high maintenance,” Hale said. “They require a lot” of feeding and upkeep.

People seeking to keep chickens would have to pay the standard $200 fee for a special use permit fee request, which would have to be considered by both the commission and the council.

Both would hold public hearings to give people opposed to their neighbors keeping chickens an opportunity to squawk.

Overall, Martin said, the permitting process “gives us the opportunity to govern” the keeping of chickens “at least a little bit.”

Permits would have to be renewed annually for a $25 fee, the rules show.

Under the rules, roosters would be prohibited. Only domestic hens could be kept, and no more than six at a time. Eggs could be used only by those who raise chickens. The birds could not be sold for meat, and they could not be slaughtered at homes.

Hale said chickens usually live about 15 years but lay eggs for only about three. He questioned whether people would be willing to keep chickens like pets, feeding them “for an awfully long time with no payoff.”

“Our SPCA is not equipped” to accept unwanted chickens, Monday noted.

Among numerous other rules, chickens would have to be kept in a pen no larger than 128 square feet. Pens would have to be in rear yards no closer than 50 feet from the main structures on adjoining properties.

Pens would have to be cleaned regularly to prevent odors.

Chicken feed would have to be stored in tight containers. Composting of chicken excrement would be encouraged. Otherwise, it would have to be double-bagged and discarded in a city-approved trash container or the garbage transfer station off Clearview Drive.

Dead chickens would have to be discarded in the same way, the rules show.

A household would have to be extremely determined to keep chickens “to go through all of these hoops,” Monday said.

Chicken owners would have to follow all local and state animal control laws. They would have to make sure rodents and predators did not get hold of the chickens and that no insects or parasites infested the birds or their living quarters.

The city’s animal control officer would have authority to remove infested chickens, the rules show.

That officer would inspect yards and enclosures where chickens would be kept before the permit was approved and each time it was to be renewed.

In terms of his work load, the officer is “stretched right now” without having to deal with chickens, too, commission member Jennifer Gregory said.

Rules for keeping chickens would become part of the city code. Martin said the rules are needed because if police alone were to try to ensure that the birds were cared for properly, it would be like “the blind leading the blind” — they, like city officials, are not experts on the care of livestock.

The rules would “make it perfectly clear” as to what was expected, he said.

Violations of the rules for keeping chickens would be class 4 misdemeanors, each punishable by a fine of up to $250. Each day that a violation continued would be considered a separate offense, according to the rules.

Assistant City Manager/Community Development Director Wayne Knox said the council could consider the proposed rules as soon as its meeting Tuesday.

Monday said he would be surprised if the council did not decide to hold a public hearing on the rules before considering whether to adopt them.


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