Feathers are ruffled over Morgantown’s chicken ordinance

17 Sep

Of all the things Morgantown’s City Council could talk about at it’s regular Tuesday night meeting, nearly two hours were spent discussing one thing: chickens. As it turns out, the people of Morgantown are passionate about their chickens. So when they heard that the council considered changing the ordinance that permits residents to own an unlimited number of chickens, folks turned out in droves to protest.

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/photos/weissertiger2/.

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/photos/weissertiger2/.


“I’m here to give a voice to all my pro-chicken friends too afraid to come to the meeting tonight and speak,” said Matthew Held, 35. “I’m an out-of-the-closet, six-chicken owner and proud of that.” He and others were disappointed by the “anti-chicken propaganda” from many others at the meeting.

The proposed changes to the ordinance would change how many chickens a person could have. As it stands now, you can own two chickens within city limits. If you want more chickens? Easy, just get a letter from your neighbor giving you permission. With the proposed changes to the ordinance, everyone could own six chickens—even without getting permission from your neighbors.

“We all know Morgantown is not built on a grid system,” said Barbara Olson, a long-time Morgantown resident, in an interview. “Not all city lots are rectangular.” In fact, because of how Olson’s lot sits, her backyard is surrounded by the backyards of six neighbors. If the ordinance was changed, she could be surrounded by 36 chickens and there would be nothing she could do about it.

But here’s the thing—city council never planned to talk about chickens for hours on end. At the city’s most recent committee of the whole meeting, councilors and other citizens decided that the city should have more laws promoting urban agriculture.

Councilwoman Jenny Selin said in an interview that she’s dismayed that the council’s good intentions were bogged down with a bunch of technicalities. But how did that happen? It’s all thanks to the people of Morgantown’s Hopecrest community.

Toward the end of last year, one woman in the neighborhood bought a seemingly harmless chicken. And then another. And another and another and another  until she ended up with somewhere between 10-13 chickens, according to Steve Farmer.

Farmer, 58, doesn’t live in Morgantown now, but he grew up here. His mom still lives in the Hopecrest community and says she’s terroized by the noise and smell resulting from the chickens.

Selin was the most vocal council member that pushed for a comprehensive urban agriculture plan. Other cities like Pittsburgh and Portland have similar plans that allow for and encourage agriculture in city spaces so people have better access to fresh and organic food. The problem, Selin told other councilors, is that the ordinance in front of them only addresses one part of the issue.

To create the comprehensive plan Selin and councilman Bill Kawecki want, they’d need to see the land-use ordinance and how it interacts with the general offense ordinance. At the end of the conversation, after every chicken lover and chicken hater said their piece, the council voted 4-3 to send the ordinance back to city staff for amendments so that it could be presented as one comprehensive package.

But really, how bad could it be living next to these little guys?


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