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Council to seek chicken views

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

City residents soon will have a chance to have their say on the idea of allowing chickens to be raised at Martinsville homes.

The council on Tuesday scheduled time during its July 22 meeting for public comments on a proposal to allow backyard chickens in the city.

The council recently received a petition, signed by more than 120 people, requesting that chickens be allowed. Ordinances currently forbid residents from having live chickens.

Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge said she was told some people signed the petition “because they want us to ... resolve” the issue, not necessarily because they support the proposal.

The notion behind the proposed ordinance is that chickens lay eggs that people who keep them would eat.

Members of the Martinsville Planning Commission recently examined the ordinance and sent it to the council without making a recommendation as to whether it should be approved.

Councilman Danny Turner joked that in not making a recommendation, the commission “laid an egg.”

Actually, commission members voiced concerns during their recent meeting about the proposal. Yet they reasoned that if council members were to stick their necks out for people who want to raise chickens, having rules to keep the birds from becoming neighborhood nuisances would be necessary.

The proposed rules are so extensive that they “should weed out people who are not serious about” raising them, commission Chairman Tim Martin told the council.

Under the ordinance, households wanting to keep chickens could do so only in backyards. They would have to meet requirements for keeping pens clean, storing food and discarding chicken poop, among other things.

Hodge said a lot of the proposed rules are “very subjective.” They do not take into account that, for instance, what one person thinks are unsanitary conditions might not bother someone else, she indicated.

The rules don’t provide protection for adjoining property owners from chickens that are nuisances, Hodge said.

Anyone aiming to keep chickens also would have to pay $200 for a special use permit which both the commission and the council would consider after holding their own public hearings.

The permitting process would help officials determine whether applicants could keep chickens from being nuisances, according to City Attorney Eric Monday.

Martin, who is running for a council seat in the Nov. 4 election, said that if applicants can prove they can comply with the rules, they should be able to receive permits.

But the permitting process is “a good opportunity for citizens (such as neighbors) to have a voice” in deciding whether someone is capable of keeping chickens properly, he said.

Turner said he understands some city residents already have chickens. Martin said he has heard that, also.

Monday voiced concern that allowing chickens would create more work for the Martinsville Police Department’s animal control officer. For example, the ordinance shows the officer would have to inspect chicken coops before a permit is approved and each time it is renewed.

Permits would be renewable annually at a cost of $25.

Mayor Kim Adkins said city property maintenance inspectors already have trouble making sure people keep their backyards in order.

Officials have said that is due to provisions of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that are intended to ensure searches of private property are reasonable.

Complying with the rules may be too costly for anyone to be able to keep chickens, Turner said.

He indicated that he questions whether the expense would be worth it, considering that hens typically lay eggs for only about three years and they tend to not lay in extremely hot or cold weather.

Vice Mayor Gene Teague made the motion to schedule the public comment time during the council’s next meeting. Hodge seconded it.

Both emphasized that they may not support adopting the ordinance when it is put to a vote.

However, Teague said he thinks “it’s important for people to be able to comment on it.”

Monday said the council does not legally have to solicit public comments on such “a regular ordinance.”


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