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.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Week in Review 6/8/09 - 6/12/09

I'm posting a bit early as this weekend I will be busy as a delegate at the NCGOP State Convention.

Council held our third and final budget worksession this past Tuesday evening. Highlights (or lowlights depending on how you look at it) from the meeting included:

Old Cary Elementary School’s restoration and renovation into the Cary Community Arts Center will remain on schedule.

Downtown Cary Streetscape project delayed one year due to the economy and concerns over mounting debt service and lower than expected revenues to the town.

Open space funding of $5.8 million from the utility and general fund approved - $10 million in COP (certificates of participation) bonds delayed.

The proposed Downtown Manager position will not be filled this year. The Planning Department will take on a more active role in this regard until funding becomes available to fill this position.

And council denied Cary EMS’ request for $5,000.00 in non-profit assistance by a vote of 5-2. Mayor Weinbrecht and I voted to approve EMS’ request.

I was very pleased to see council reconsider our earlier decision to delay old Cary Elementary. Of all Cary’s planned capital projects, this particular project – in this council member’s opinion – is by far our most important. Not only is old Cary Elementary one of our town’s most treasured historic resources, but it is also in dire need of repairs. One needs look no further than the leaning front porch roofline to see what I mean. The longer this project waits, the further the building will continue to deteriorate, and the more expensive this project becomes. We may also discover that due to the economy and increased competition that construction bids come in lower than expected.

Given my passion for old Cary and our downtown it was very difficult for me to support delaying the downtown streetscape project. However given the town’s financial outlook and economy the choice….well, we really had no choice. We could either move forward with this project and raise taxes, or not. I voted not. Raising taxes in a down economy is the LAST thing government should do (are you listening NCGA??) Hopefully next year the town’s financial outlook and the economy improve enough to where we can bring this project back. Until then the council will review this project and our plans for downtown to see if their may be better phasing options and/or changes that may be made to better achieve our goals downtown.

What really surprised me at our budget worksession however was the decision to NOT grant Cary EMS $5,000 in non-profit funding. For those of you who may be unaware, Cary EMS is a non-profit entity and is not funded by Cary. They do receive county and private funding. Cary EMS “rents” space from Cary Firestation #5 so they can position an ambulance in the western Cary area to better serve our citizens. Cary EMS requested $5000 from Cary to help offset these costs. I believed this to be a no-brainer – given all that Cary EMS does to serve and save the lives of our citizenry I felt $5000 was the least we could do to help. We are after all granting over $130,000 to other local non-profits like the Carying Place, Kids Voting, Triangle Family Services, and Child Care Services Association. Unfortunately I was in the minority.

After our worksession council went into closed session to discuss and review the performance of two town employees. I can’t say much given that this was a closed session discussion but FWIW council only has the authority to hire and fire 3 town employees. We weren’t discussing the town manager. The rest is up to you to figure out. ;-)

Our council meeting was held on Wednesday this week due to local high school graduation ceremonies. The council meeting went rather quickly as there was not much on our agenda. Meeting highlights included council’s adoption of an annexation moratorium in Chatham County until September, agreement to direct our town staff to review Cary’s open house signage restrictions and report back to council to see how we may be more flexible in allowing folks to better market their homes in these tough economic times, discussion and decision regarding Cary’s high efficiency toilet (HET) rebate program, and council held another budget public hearing.

A number of folks spoke during the budget public hearing regarding their concerns over potential delays in the downtown streetscape and old Cary Elementary projects. I was very encouraged to see so many come out in support of our efforts downtown. While streetscapes will unfortunately be delayed, the majority of folks I have spoken to have been very understanding given the economic climate and are pleased to see that Cary will at least continue to move forward with old Cary Elementary.

At the request of citizens who are having difficulties selling their homes in this economy I sponsored the request to have our staff reevaluate our sign ordinance pertaining to open house signage to see if we can become a bit more flexible. Currently our ordinance only allows folks the opportunity to advertise their open houses with signage twice a year. Yet some folks are having upwards of 4,5,or even 6 open houses. Now I don’t know what the magic number should be, I learned a while back its better to identify the issue and allow the professionals time to work their magic before getting more specific, but I am optimistic that we can find a way to allow folks a bit more freedom without compromising the visual landscape throughout town that our citizens value so much.

I voted against adoption of an annexation moratorium in Chatham County (again) for a few reasons. 1) Chatham County has no development moratorium in place so why should we be expected to? 2) I believe the moratorium largely responsible for Cary and Chatham’s inability to come to agreement on a joint land use plan thus far, and 3) Given the comments from some Chatham County Commissioners I doubt we ever will come to an agreement.

Thursday evening Mayor Weinbrecht and I attended Cary High School’s graduation ceremony at the convention center in downtown Raleigh. This was extra special for me as our son Whitt was one of the graduates! I was also pleased that this year’s graduation had air conditioning. Previous graduations were held in Reynolds Coliseum which has no air conditioning. A suit and tie in June is bad enough – a suit and tie in June with no A/C is criminal. Congratulations to all our area graduates and CONGRATULATIONS WHITT!!!

This weekend is the NCGOP State Convention which will be held at the convention center in downtown Raleigh (seems like I was just there). I will try to post an entry on the convention’s activities early next week.

That’s about it for now. Thanks for reading!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Help Wanted....or not.

Ok - question for you. Let’s say you are the apartment manager of a low end apartment complex that has seen a steady increase in crime over the years.

The elected official(s) and police department of the town in which your apartment complex is located wants to help - so much so that they dedicate additional police officers and step up patrols in the area. New programs are initiated that place officers in the area on foot and undercover. The police department even goes so far as to set up a police substation inside the apartment complex ensuring an even greater police presence and a means for residents to contact and locate an officer quickly. Heck, they even create an after school program for the neighborhood children.

Crime rates drop 21% from 2008-2009 indicating that the town is having success, but that we still have much work to do.

Now my question is: as the apartment complex manager, would you decide to:

A) Throw the police department a party thanking them for all their hard work.
B) See what else you can do to help.
C) Ask the Chief of Police out for a date.

If you chose A, B, or C you might make a pretty decent apartment complex manager someday.

If you chose D then congratulations! You are the apartment complex management of Briarcliff Apartments off of Wrenn Drive right here in Cary.

The good folks at Cary PD can do a lot – but they can’t fix stupid.

Its much easier and way more effective for the town and apartment complex to work together. It becomes pretty difficult when the people that need the help don't want the help. But whether they want it or not, they're going to get it. Some people gotta learn the hard way.