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Council plucks chicken ordinance

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A proposed ordinance that would have let Martinsville residents raise chickens in their backyards has flown the coop, so to speak.

After hearing from both supporters and opponents, Martinsville City Council on Tuesday did not vote on the ordinance. Rather, each council member said he or she was against it, largely due to public opposition they have heard as well as worries about the effects it would have on city resources.

Under the ordinance, for instance, the city’s animal control officer would have had to inspect yards and pens before special use permits that would have been needed to keep chickens were issued or renewed.

City workers are “already struggling to keep up with” other types of property inspections, said Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge.

Councilman Danny Turner estimated that 80 percent of city residents with whom he has talked are opposed to allowing chickens. Councilman Mark Stroud said he has talked with nobody who supports the idea.

Animal Control Officer E.C. Stone presented several potential problems with allowing chickens in the city.

Chickens — even ones kept in enclosures — tend to lure predator animals, such as foxes and raccoons, Stone said. He already is receiving “numerous calls” about such animals getting into people’s garbage, he noted, and he thinks allowing chickens would add to problems with predators.

Stone also noted that under state law, people can shoot and kill animals — pets included — caught attacking other people’s chickens. Yet the city bans firearms from being used within its boundaries. Would the city enforce that ban, he said, or look the other way when guns were fired at predators?

Also, he said, the city probably would have had to build a shelter to house chickens that escaped their pens and were found roaming with no indication of who their owner was. That would force the city to buy feed and supplies, adding to expenses amid financial constraints, he said.

Think the potential for chickens escaping sounds like a bird-brained story? Think again. Officials recalled an incident in the not-too-distant past when a chicken was found roaming Commonwealth Boulevard near Liberty Fair Mall, causing commotion with traffic. It took police hours to catch the clucker.

“I’d rather have these officers out here chasing criminals, not chasing chickens,” said city resident Elaine Hedrick.

Opponents cited various other problems.

Patricia Wardzala of Morningside Lane said chickens would stink, especially in hot weather. She recalled her experiences with raising chickens as part of a 4-H program when she was younger.

Listening to chickens squawk would not be pleasant for neighbors, Stone said.

The proposed rules would have required people to pay $200 for a permit to keep chickens and limited households to keeping six hens.

Two hundred dollars would “buy a lot of eggs,” Wardzala said.

If six chickens produced an egg a day, that would be 42 eggs a week, she said, indicating that would be more than most households would use.

Considering that the ordinance would not have allowed eggs to be sold, she said, what would they do with the rest?

Based on a show of hands, there were more supporters of chickens than opponents in the audience at the council meeting. But only one of those supporters, Dawn Moser of Spruce Street, spoke to the council.

In June, Moser presented the council a petition signed by more than 120 people, asking that people be allowed to keep chickens to get free eggs.

At Tuesday’s meeting, her attitude was sunny-side up. Before the council decided not to allow chickens, she said she would respect its decision, no matter what it might be.

Although she did not support allowing chickens, Hodge praised Moser and other supporters. She wasn’t trying to walk on eggshells, mind you. Rather, she said they presented detailed information that “we needed to make a thoughtful decision” on the issue.


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