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Chickens again?

Not your grandfather's chicken coopI posted on the Oak Ridge backyard chickens page on Facebook, and might as well repeat it here:

I voted for backyard chickens while I was on City Council.
I see this as one of several examples of new ideas that Oak Ridge needs to embrace in order to meet the needs and expectations of new generations of residents.

Before the early 1990s, I had never heard of greenways, but then I listened to people who supported greenways and got enthusiastically involved in developing Oak Ridge’s original greenways master plan — and I’m pleased with the continuing expansion of our greenways system.

Before about 10 years ago, I had never heard of dog parks (although I now realize I had experience as a dog owner with areas that could have been considered unofficial dog parks), but now it’s important for every community to have dog parks — and fortunately we finally have a good one here.

I guess I first heard about backyard chickens about 7 years ago (and was surprised by the idea at first). I see this as another new idea that Oak Ridge needs to embrace if we want to keep up with the times.

— Click on the “chickens” tag to see my past comments on this topic.


A chicken coop at every house?

Sign at Peggy Hanrahans Realty Center promoting a chicken coop with every home sale
No, I don’t believe that everyone in Oak Ridge wants to keep chickens, but Peggy Hanrahan’s Realty Center seems to be open to the idea — their business sign is advertising a free chicken coop with every house sold…

This is in keeping with the goals of the Oak Ridgers who would like to keep backyard chickens — they are thinking in terms of pets that lay eggs, not full-scale poultry farming. Not everyone would want backyard chickens, but not everyone wants a pet dog, either. If Oak Ridge doesn’t make it explicitly legal to keep chickens — under certain rules designed to protect the neighborhood, I have a hunch that people will keep them anyway, but without rules.


Chickens or not?

Following up to my earlier post on chickens… Today’s Oak Ridger reports that the 5 Planning Commission members who attended last week’s work session were negative about the idea of allowing chickens in residential neighborhoods.  I wasn’t able to attend the meeting and I haven’t yet seen what staff presented to them. However,  I do know that there was no advance publicity of the meeting’s topic (unless you count this blog) so there may have been no interested citizens at the meeting,  and it’s apparent from the article that staff presented the idea in negative terms (saying it was  supported by only a “handful of people” and raising concerns about the workload for enforcement and licensing and permitting).

If chickens are going to come to Oak Ridge to roost or lay eggs, people with interest and knowledge of chicken-rearing are going to have to sit down for a two-way discussion with the planning commissioners and staff. The newspaper says the topic will be addressed by the full Planning Commission at its February 25th meeting (5:30 pm in the City courtroom); based on what I know of the subject and what I read in the newspaper reports, I think it’s premature for the Commission to take any final action on this.

Follow-up (written on Wednesday): Community Development staff provided me with a copy of the written material provided to the committee; it included copies of the text of a couple of e-mails I had received from citizens. Staff say that there were several interested citizens at the meeting. It appears that discussion at the meeting dealt mainly with broad concepts.


Chickens ‘R Us?

Chickens were the main topic in the waning minutes of Monday evening’s City Council meeting. There’s been public interest in allowing backyard poultry-keeping (mostly for eggs — and in support of sustainability, the locavore lifestyle, and connecting kids with “nature”). Oak Ridge’s zoning ordinance doesn’t allow “livestock” (including fowl) except in the RG-1 zone, so poultry-keeping is illegal unless we change the ordinance. The Planning Commission is taking up the issue — and Charlie Hensley says it’s on their policy work session agenda for this Thursday, February 11 (5:30 pm in the Municipal Building Training Room).

Urban chickens (and other fowl) are “in” these days, and many jurisdictions have been changing their zoning laws to allow them (for example, here’s a news story from last year on Durham, North Carolina, legalizing backyard chickens).

Most prospective chicken-keepers suggest that the ordinance should allow no more than 4 to 6 chickens per household — and almost everyone seems to agree on no roosters (many people enjoy hearing “cock-a-doodle-doo,” but there are many more who don’t). One poultry proponent said in an e-mail that “What matters is … that the conditions are sanitary and that it does not stink, and it is not an eyesore.” The Planning Commission will also have to think about whether an ordinance would need to include specifications on things like setbacks from property lines, and whether the city can and should enact requirements on how these birds are housed. The Planning Commission can make a recommendation to City Council, and any change in the ordinance would require City Council action.

I expect that people interested in keeping chickens (or turkeys, ducks, guinea fowl, geese, pheasants, or quail) will be at Thursday’s meeting — and will be communicating their views to Community Development directory Kathryn Baldwin, Planning Commission members, and City Council. To help in reaching good decisions, we also need to hear the concerns of people who don’t like the idea — and I expect that we’ll hear from them, too.  As issues go, this one should be an amusing one to discuss — already I’m hearing good stories about people’s personal experiences with fowl.