The Capital (Annapolis, MD)
BYLINE: ELISHA SAUERS
Annapolitans can now have up to five egg-laying chickens in their backyards.
But when it came to a vote this morning before the City Council, it wasn’t over easy.
The legislation, introduction in December, passed 6-3 at 12:30 a.m. today. Council members with reservations helped hatch a compromise – a sunset amendment that will make chicken ownership a sort of three-year experiment.
As a few council members were skeptical of the information city staff provided on chickens – their noises, possible diseases, pests, lifespan and egg productivity – Mayor Josh Cohen brought in an expert from the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
State veterinarian Guy Hohenhaus said chickens carry few diseases and are about as noisy as a house cat. Hohenhaus said their feed can attract rodents if not stored properly, but he cited few public health concerns.
Aldermen Fred Paone, R-Ward 2, Sheila Finlayson, D-Ward 4, and Ross Arnett, D-Ward-8 – the trio that voted against the legislation – spent more than 30 minutes asking Hohenhaus questions ranging from whether chickens can fly away to how to dispose of dead poultry.
Although the bill’s passage didn’t come in time for Easter egg-dyeing or a Passover seder, Cohen said he’s pleased Annapolitans have a chance to try something new. Giving residents the right to have their own fresh eggs is in keeping with the city’s commitment to promoting locally grown food, he said.
“Some people fundamentally view chickens as a rural thing that has no place within the city limits. Others, like myself, see backyard hens as a way to be more connected to the food that we eat … to help our kids understand where their food comes from,” Cohen said.
“Eggs don’t just appear magically in the cartons in the grocery store refrigerator … they come from hens that need to be fed and maintained.”
Finlayson fears the birds will be a nuisance and a source of environmental and health complaints. She expects a flood of litigation.
She read portions of emails from three residents who claimed that chickens will violate homeowners associations’ covenants, hurt property values and cause neighborhood battles.
“I grew up in Eastport in the 50s when we had chickens,” she said. “It wasn’t pretty then, and it’s not gonna be pretty now.”
The new law will allow residents to keep up to five egg-laying hens, so long as their chicken coops meet a minimum setback requirement of 5 feet from neighbors’ property lines.
Chicken owners would be required to register with the city’s Department of Neighborhood and Environmental Programs and get consent from their neighbors. City officials would issue permits to chicken keepers and charge a fee of about $55 for inspections and reviews.
The new policy does not allow roosters or broiler chickens.
If in three years the City Council does not renew the policy to allow hens, residents who have them would have to give up their chickens.
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