Cock-a-doodle-Do or Don’t?

16 Sep

Image Courtesy of khunaspix/freedigitalphotos.net

Image Courtesy of khunaspix/freedigitalphotos.net

The chicken crisis causing controversy for the City Council is taking over Morgantown and all its inhabitants.

At the Morgantown City Council meeting on Sept. 15, the issue of considering approval of amending article 505 of the general offenses code regulating the keeping of animals and fowl was debated, leaving residents and council members at odds.

Council member Wesley Nugent said the city’s goal was to update the ordinance in a realistic and responsible way for the city.  He and many others were shocked that it reached this level of up-rise between city residents, half for and half against changing the ordinance currently in place.

The pro-chicken half, say that urban agriculture should be promoted by the city for reasons regarding self-sufficiency of food, economic help it can bring to families as well as health factors that range from the protein in the eggs themselves to the fertilizer their feces give to a self-grown garden.

One man said that because of his chickens and the nutrition they give his garden, “I do not buy nary an occasional cabbage.”

The other half, the chicken-haters, say that chickens are farm animals and are not meant to be raised within city limits.  They also argue that they can cause health-related issues because of the diseases they may carry. Furthermore, they are loud, smell bad and could even bring in foxes or coyotes.  They also brought up the value of their own homes being lowered due to having chickens in neighboring yards.  They believe neighbor compliance is completely necessary in the decision-making process.

There were 11 people total who spoke on the issue at the City Council meeting; seven speaking in favor of the ordinance and five wishing to change it completely.

“I didn’t get out of there until after 11pm,” Nugent said. “It’s these kind of front door/backyard issues that people are so passionate about.  It was good respectful dialogue, though.  It was the kind of feedback city councilors want to receive. I only wished I would have packed a lunch.”

Nugent believes that the best option for the city is to allow the board of zoning appeals to have the ability to use process and procedures to regulate the activity of owning fowl.  He was in support of changing the ordinance because Morgantown is an urban area, but he went into the meeting with an open mind.

“The heart of it is, though, as a council member I would hate to pass an ordinance that could make someone sell their property.  You have to think about how this could play out in properties near you in any situation,” he said. “Does this mean chickens can’t co-exist peacefully and people can’t raise their chickens responsibly? No, but everyone needs to be on an equal playing field.  At this point in time, from the information I’ve gathered, Morgantown is not comfortable with chickens.”

So how will this play out?  Who knows?

“I don’t even know what council will do,” Nugent said with a laugh and a head shake.

The end of the portion of the meeting regarding this issue was left with the ordinance being tabled and sent to staff for further review.  It will be discussed again at a later date.

If you ask me – although you probably didn’t – these chickens are harmless.  The ordinance has been in effect since the 1900s, and there hasn’t been a problem until the Hopecrest neighborhood confronted a household keeping 14 chickens.  This family was irresponsible with their chickens, though.  Most people who keep chickens (and remember that’s not many) keep them responsibly and use them purely for self-sustaining purposes.  As Nugent said, it may be wrong to have the possible situation of someone having to sell their house because they can’t stand all the chickens, but the likelihood of that is very slim.  It is worse to ask someone to start buying their eggs from a farmers market when they could have their eggs for free.  Urban agriculture should not be diminished because of the one family who caused a problem and the few people who believe it’s actually possible that all six of their neighbors would get six chickens and create some kind of barnyard explosion.

There are ways to compromise, though, and I believe the city will do its best to find that compromise.  Whether it be regulating the buying of chickens somehow or regulating the number allowed on property, a solution can be reached and both parties can live peacefully within city limits.

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