Backyard chicken debate resurfaces

Published 3:01 pm Wednesday, August 22, 2018

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Referendum may be held during November council election


Less than one year after voting down an ordinance that would have permitted backyard chickens to be kept on residential properties, Windsor’s Town Council is once again discussing the possibility. A resident of the Windsor Woods development made an impassioned plea for the council to reconsider its position during citizens’ time at the council’s meeting on Tuesday.

Katherine Dailey of Albert Court, who recently relocated to Windsor from Chesapeake, said she had received a notice of violation from the town concerning her chickens, which she keeps in a coop in her backyard. Dailey then claimed that she had been unaware of the ordinance the council adopted in 2016 prohibiting chickens within town limits except on lots zoned A1 agricultural, and also said her chickens act like therapy animals for her son, who has a diagnosed disorder.

“When he has an episode he runs outside, and you can see him outside on the swing holding a chicken,” Dailey said. “There are a lot of us already in town with chickens. My kids helped me build the coop. We have eagerly awaited our first eggs like Christmas morning.”

When it came time for the council members to discuss citizens’ concerns, Councilwoman Patty Flemming asked whether Dailey could obtain an exception to the ordinance if a doctor had her chickens designated as therapy or service animals. Town Manager Michael Stallings said that unless there was something in state law on service animals that would trump the town’s ordinance, the ordinance, as it is worded, does not allow for exceptions. He did, however, mention that the town was willing to be lenient and give people time to relocate any illegal animals.

Town Attorney Wallace Brittle added that if the chickens were legally declared to be service animals, they would need to be permitted not only in Dailey’s backyard but also anywhere else service animals are permitted, to include the Windsor Food Lion. Brittle plans to research further what can and cannot be considered a service animal.

Councilman Walter Bernacki suggested putting the matter to a referendum on the ballot for the Town Council election this November. Brittle, however, was uncertain as to whether there was still time to get a referendum on the ballot or if there would be any cost in doing so.

Nevertheless, Councilman Tony Ambrose made a motion to direct the town manager to determine the feasibility of getting a referendum on the November ballot, and, if the cost of doing so is less than $5,000, hold a referendum on the backyard chicken ordinance recommended by the town’s Planning Commission in 2017. Flemming seconded the motion and the council ultimately adopted it in a vote of 5-1. Vice Mayor Durwood Scott was the dissenting vote.

The ordinance the Planning Commission had drafted in 2017, which the Town Council voted down in September of that year, would have permitted chickens on lots zoned R1 and R4 with the following conditions:

  • All chickens must be provided with a predator-proof shelter that is thoroughly ventilated, easily cleaned and that provides adequate protection from the elements. Pens must also be a minimum of 10 square feet per chicken.
  • All shelters and associated structures, including fencing, shall be located fully to the rear of the residential structure and shall comply with all setbacks for primary structures.
  • All chickens shall have their wings clipped to prevent excessive ranging and shall be prohibited from free ranging unless under the supervision of the owner or his designee.
  • The maximum number of chickens permitted on a residential property shall be six, and the keeping of other types of poultry or fowl is prohibited. No roosters shall be permitted to be kept on a residential property.
  • All shelters and associated structures, including fencing, shall be kept in a neat and sanitary condition at all times and must be cleaned on a regular basis to prevent odors outside the boundaries of the property. All feed for the chickens shall be kept in a secure container or location to prevent the attraction of rodents or other animals.
  • No person shall store, stockpile or permit any accumulation of chicken litter and waste in any manner whatsoever that, due to odor, attraction of flies or other pests, diminishes the rights of the adjacent property owners to enjoy reasonable use of their property.
  • No commercial activity, such as the selling of eggs or chickens for meat, shall be permitted to occur from the residential property.
  • A zoning permit shall be required for the keeping of chickens.
  • Keeping of chickens is permitted when in conjunction with some other permitted use within the public district.