Friday, June 26, 2009

I Give A Cluck

So it looks like the chicken issue is coming back to council for decision...again. I gotta give these folks credit - they don't give up. Heck, I admire their passion and persistence. And while I may not agree with what they are fighting for, I support their right to fight for it.

About a year ago a group of citizens petitioned the town requesting that we modify our ordinance to allow folks to keep chickens in Cary town limits. Council denied the request. These citizens, not taking no for an answer, then submitted an application to the recently created Citizens Issue Review Commission (CIRC) requesting a recommendation from CIRC that council sanction their group to form an issue Advisory Group (IAG). This would allow them to make a formal presentation and plead their case to council. CIRC approved their request. Council however still has yet to decide whether or not to sanction this group - this will happen at a future council meeting.

Assuming (and we all know what happens when you assume) that no one on council has changed their mind regarding chickens in Cary, there is a good chance that their request will be denied. Council has already discussed the issue and said, "no". While I have concerns that our CIRC has given these folks false hopes, I also believe they know what they are up against, and it is up to them to change our mind...or at least one of our minds - they only gotta count to 4 after all.

So I figured this was as good a time as any to review why I do not support their request.

Reason #1 - a picture is worth a thousand words.

This is not some picture snagged off the Internet. This was taken just outside of Garner NC city limits. It is referred to as the "chicken and duck house" by many. Garner does not allow chickens in city limits. Since this is not in Garner city limits (it is so close however that most folks think it is in Garner) their is nothing that Garner can legally do to address the many complaints they receive on an almost weekly basis regarding this property.

Would you be ok if your neighbor's property looked like this?

Now sure, the town could create standards and ordinances to prevent such an occurrence, but what would be required to do so? How much would it cost? How much staff time and resources would this require? How would zoning enforcement police this? Would we discover that we need to hire additional staff to enforce violations and/or respond to complaints? Would we need an additional animal control officer?

Reason #2 - Chicken Coops.

Now how many of you would like to see one of these in your neighbor's backyard? Unlike the first image, both of these images were snagged off the Internet and yes, they are examples of worst case scenarios. They came from - a popular website among those who keep chickens as pets - a site I have spent way too much time on in an effort to learn more about urban chickens. Along with these images were comments such as "Good Job!", or "Great idea!" The funniest comment however was "at least the chickens will be dry" :-) I digress.

Now this chicken coop is actually cute. No different in appearance than most tool sheds (besides the smell of course). So how would Cary ensure that those who built a chicken coop did so in a tasteful manner such as that above? Would it require ordinance amendments with design guidelines for chicken coops? (Cary coops would have to be beige of course) What if folks couldn't afford to build a coop like this but they do have an old dryer laying around? What about those citizens who construct a coop that does not conform to our design guidelines? Do we now end up with chicken police?

Reason #3 - increased predators.

In my research I have come to the conclusion that chickens do and will attract predators such as snakes, raccoons, foxes, skunks, weasels, and even dogs. Yes you can take steps to limit the chances of attracting predators by keeping chicken feed off the ground (attracts mice which attracts snakes) and ensuring your coop is constructed in a manner that discourages predators, but things can and will happen. According to rodriguezpoultry, Chickens eat chicken feed. Mice like chicken feed. Mice live close by the food source. Snakes eat mice. Snakes live close to the food source.

What if a chicken gets lose into a neighbors yard who happens to have a dog or two? Yes I know dogs don't like cats either, but the cat is much harder to catch than a chicken, and chickens taste like, well, chicken. Yum.

Reason #4 - Smells, noise, and disease.

In reviewing for information on disease I was a bit overwhelmed. There were over 450 pages and 12,000 different threads pertaining to emergencies, disease, injuries and cures. Yes dogs and cats get sick too, but most folks are familiar enough with "normal"dog and cat behavior and can "usually" tell when something is wrong. I tend to believe that most folks who decided to keep chickens in town limits would be doing so for the first time and would be unfamiliar with a chicken's "normal" behavior, possibly not realizing something is wrong until it is too late. Could a disease spread to another animal such as a dog or cat? What about humans? Many folks order their chickens through the mail (seriously). What about avian flu? (yes I am aware we haven't had a confirmed case in the US yet but....)

I also have concerns regarding odors and to an extent, noise. I have friends who keep chickens in the country - they smell. My wife also had chickens for a number of years. She did not like the smells (much less finding dead chickens due to predators) either. Yes you can keep the coop clean and limit most odors, but how many of Cary's busy urban families have time to care for their coops properly in between taking little Johnny to T-ball practice or little Suzy to dance? What about Cary's postage stamp sized lots? While folks may believe they have the right to keep chickens, their neighbors have rights also.

Reason #5 - HOAs

Most homeowners associations in town already prohibit their residents from keeping chickens. Many that did not, after hearing about the request from folks to keep chickens worked quickly to modify their covenants to prohibit it. "Most" folks in town would not be permitted to keep chickens since most of our neighborhoods have HOAs.

Reason #6 - Majority of citizens oppose the idea.

The majority of Cary citizens I have spoken to during the last year have made it clear. I cannot tell you how many folks have grabbed me in the grocery store, at the ball field or some other event, called or emailed opposing the idea of Cary allowing folks to keep chickens in town limits. The general comments of those who weren't totally opposed to the idea were along the lines of, "Well, I guess I am ok with it AS LONG AS MY NEIGHBOR DOESN'T HAVE CHICKENS." In other words, it's ok as long as I don't have to deal with them. In my opinion that comment speaks volumes about peoples thoughts regarding chickens in their neighborhood.

Reason #7 - Dinner.

I am all for folks having fresh eggs for breakfast. Heck, one of my favorite dinners is a breakfast dinner with pancakes, eggs, and bacon....lots of bacon! But what about those who want chicken for dinner? What about those folks who might not think twice about slaughtering a chicken in the backyard for dinner? What if little Suzy were to whitness that?

And last but not least - Reason #8 - Precident

Would allowing folks to keep chickens open the door for folks who might want to keep pigs, goats, or other farm animals? There is a place for this - it's called the country. While I live in Cary, I also own a house in rural Smithfield. Our neighbors have all kinds of farm animals such as horses, chickens, sheep and cows. But it's the country - it's expected. Everyones property is 5 acres or larger - much larger than the postage stamp lots we have in Cary.

I am sorry for such a long post. I am well aware that there are those in Cary who share a passion for having chickens and I believe they deserve a thorough explanation of why I oppose allowing it. They won't, and don't, like my position and that's fine - I respect that. I have probably made more people mad regarding this particular issue than any other issue that has come before council. I hope that those reading this appreciate the time and effort that I have taken to further educate myself on this topic, and explain my position as I appreciate and respect their position. I hope that if nothing else, we can agree to disagree.