Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Council to Continue to Consider Urban Chickens

By Christina Georgiou

Firecracker, a Silkie/Cochin mix chicken, is
held by NicoleKilhullen, 11, of Stewartsville, NJ
at a public discussion of the pros and cons of
keeping backyard chickens held at Nurture
Nature Center last month. Several residents
are requesting that Easton City Council
consider lifting a ban on keeping chickens
in the city and allow small personal
flocks so residents can have fresh eggs.
 Half a dozen residents voiced their support for overturning the current ban on keeping chickens in urban Easton at Tuesday evening's city council committee meeting, though a city health inspector said the practice could create problems.

Ted Verasink, one of Easton's two part-time health code inspectors, worried that overturning the ban would create an enforcement problem, and that those that failure to keep the birds responsibly might cause odor, insect, and rodent issues.

"I'm not sure it's going to be easy to maintain chickens in the city," he said.
Verasink also wondered if chicken waste could cause issues disposing of manure.

"In the urban setting that we have, I think we should give a great deal of thought before we change anything," Verasink said, though he conceded that those who might keep chickens and follow good animal husbandry rules would probably not cause any problems. "Those that wouldn't are the potential issue."

But residents in support of allowing the keeping of chickens inside of city limits say the proposal to keep small flocks with no roosters would be unlikely to cause problems.

"I understand the issues with people that don't behave well," said Joanne Czeck of South Fifth Street. "I promise I wouldn't be one of them."

She suggested that the amount of chicken manure a small flock would produce can easily be taken care of by covering it with straw, and that if she were allowed to keep the birds, they'd always be in a coop, "because there's hawks, you know?

"A small flock, it's just harmless," Czeck said.

South Side resident Melissa Beveridge also spoke in favor of allowing residents to keep chickens in the city.

"We would like to have chickens also," she told council members. "It would be a very small flock. I did my homework, and then found out I couldn't do it."

Rich Cook, who lives on Sixth Street, said that the urban nature of Easton isn't a barrier to keeping chickens responsibly, and that they can easily be kept without disturbing neighbors or causing health concerns.

"Nothing we've talked about is new. Many cities larger than Easton allow the keeping of chickens," he said, noting, "There are no limitations to how many chickens you can have in New York City."

Cook said the practice is growing in popularity.

"The fact is, this is a movement that is taking place across the country...You need to be open-minded about this," he said. "The people that don't 'get' chickens won't get this."

While some might not be responsible animal owners, the majority likely will be, and changing the law is unlikely to bring too many chickens to the city, Cook opined.

"There's probably a small number of people that will embrace this," he said. "The people that invest in this probably have done their research."

Small urban yards shouldn't be a real issue either, Cook said, as chickens only need about four square feet apiece.

College Hill resident Annie Porter, whose request in May prompted Easton city council to reconsider the ban, said she appreciates the consideration officials have given the matter.

"I just want to plug again to consider changing the ordinance," she said, adding that a small flock of chickens is kept by her class at the school where she teaches.

Porter said chicken manure can easily be composted, and said that chickens far less maintenance than dogs, and that both kinds of animals should be considered as pets.

Considering the chickens as pets would circumvent requests from residents wanting to keep other, more labor-intensive and potentially annoying fowl such as guinea hens, at their residences in the city, she said.

Porter said that chicken feed for a small flock is no more likely to attract vermin than regular bird seed, and that city officials finding that a family has been keeping a flock of 11 chickens at their home in the West Ward, with the birds being housed in the basement at night shows that, "the worst case scenario already exists."

While she'd like city codes to allow up to six hens, she said a new ordinance might specify the number of chickens one could keep based on yard size.

"Maybe if you have a postage stamp-sized yard, you only have enough room for one or two hens," Porter said.

City council members, some of who attended a public discussion of the matter held at Nurture Nature Center in August, seemed on the fence about the possibility of changing the law, saying they still have questions about if chicken-keeping could cause problems.

"I have several concerns, and one of them is equality," said Councilman Roger Ruggles, who heads the council's planning committee, which is set to make a final recommendation about the matter to city council. "Part of the setback issue is to prevent noise...and chickens draw predators--skunks...all types of animals that come after chickens."

Mayor Sal Panto said he's worried a law based on yard size could be unfair and create "classes of people", something he wants to avoid.

"I don't think it's fair for the city to say 'you have a bigger back yard, you can have them' but with a smaller yard you can't," he said. "That's one concern I have about (regulating it) by yard size."

Lafayette College's director of the Landis Community Outreach Center, Bonnie Winfield, speaking on behalf of the West Ward Neighborhood Partnership, suggested that chickens might be kept in a co-op situation to be located at the Urban Farm in the city's South Side, and that those who contribute could then be entitled to a share of the eggs produced.

"I think maybe having a co-op might be a solution for everybody," Ruggles said, adding that the city council planning committee will be discussing the matter, as well as taking more input from the city's health department before making a formal recommendation to city council some time in the coming weeks.

Panto said he appreciated attending residents for making their wishes known.

"Thank you for you enthusiasm," he said.

1 comment:

  1. I had ducks for there eggs and I like them better and they are cleaner then chickens and the town maid me get rid of them said they were fighting well that's what they do when they are mating and they don't crow and the kids loved to see the raser ducks I had