Lo­cal res­i­dent ad­vo­cates for back­yard chick­ens in La Plata

Maryland Independent - - News - By TIF­FANY WAT­SON twat­son@somd­news.com Twit­ter: Tif­fIndyNews

La Plata’s town code does not al­low poul­try on home­own­ers’ prop­erty and one res­i­dent isn’t bit­ing her tongue about the is­sue.

Chelsea Williams, a La Plata res­i­dent who lives on Oak Av­enue, said she was shocked when she found out that the town code does not al­low hens in the town, con­sid­er­ing that hous­ing chick­ens has be­come in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar in re­cent years as peo­ple have taken an in­ter­est in their food’s ori­gins and seek out more lo­cal, fresh, hu­manely-sourced of­fer­ings. She be­lieves that Chap­ter 67-3 of the town code, which cur­rently pro­hibits the keep­ing of poul­try, should be changed to al­low res­i­dents to keep small flocks of hens for the pur­pose of col­lect­ing eggs.

The La Plata town code specif­i­cally states that no per­son should keep or main­tain a horse, goat, don­key, mule, cow, sheep or poultr y.

In a let­ter Williams wrote to the Town Coun­cil on June 6, she said, “Al­low­ing small flocks of hens to be kept in town would align with the vi­brant, lo­cally ori­ented small town im­age that La Plata has cul­ti­vated through events such as the Farmer’s Mar­ket and sum­mer con­cert se­ries that are sup­ported through our in­de­pen­dently owned restau­rants and shops. Al­low­ing hens would make liv­ing in this town more at­trac­tive to prospec­tive res­i­dents who are in­ter­ested in own­ing chick­ens, and would al­low chil­dren to par­tic­i­pate in chicken-rais­ing as part of lo­cal 4-H chap­ters. It could even pre­vent en­force­ment is­sues in the fu­ture, and res­i­dents may choose to ig­nore the pro­hi­bi­tion on chick­ens.”

At the town coun­cil meet­ing on June 21, Williams told the coun­cil that her mother, who lives in Port Tobacco, has hens in her back­yard and she also looked for­ward to hav­ing chick­ens at her La Plata home.

“My kids think they are the great­est thing in the world and the eggs are amaz­ingly de­li­cious,” Williams said. “Back­yard hens gen­er­ate less waste and are qui­eter than the av­er­age dog. A cou­ple of my neigh­bors said they wanted to have chick­ens too while oth­ers said they weren’t in­ter­ested but wouldn’t mind if I had it.”

Williams also ap­proached the coun­cil with ways to move for­ward with her re­quest, such as putting a lot of reg­u­la­tions in place in or­der for res­i­dents to have chick­ens but with many stip­u­la­tions or by re­vert­ing to the county code with some re­vi­sions.

“I’ve never raised chick­ens but I have with my mom and I know the ba­sics. I think that hav­ing only hens is the way to go with this,” Williams said.

Williams’ re­search demon­strated to the coun­cil that many cities and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are chang­ing their codes to al­low chick­ens in res­i­dents’ back­yards. Cities and towns such as Rich­mond, Va., An­napo­lis, Rockville and Bel Air al­low up to four hens un­der some cir­cum­stances, such as lim­it­ing the size of the flock, pro­hibit­ing roost­ers to pre­vent noise, pro­hibit­ing chick­ens from be­ing kept for hu­man con­sump­tion, re­quir­ing that feed be kept in air-tight can­is­ters, re­quir­ing that coops be kept a cer­tain dis­tance from prop­erty lines and homes, re­quir­ing that res­i­dents have a cer­tain amount of land in or­der to raise chick­ens, and putting a per­mit­ting process in place, which some­times has an as­so­ci­ated fee.

Coun­cil­man Joseph Nor­ris asked whether the hens would be in a fenced area and whether Williams plans to keep the hens on her prop­erty only. Williams said she is def­i­nitely con­sid­er­ing hav­ing a coop and/or fence, which meets the coun­cil’s re­quire­ments to the up­dated town code.

“If it has to be a cer­tain dis­tance from some­body else’s prop­erty line then you’re go­ing to run into an is­sue there too,” Coun­cil­man Keith Back said. “I would think you would have to have some min­i­mum-sized yard to have chick­ens be­cause then that wouldn’t be right for neigh­bors or even hu­mane for the baby chicks.”

Mears said the town staff will look at putting a lim­i­ta­tion in re­gards to the num­ber of hens only and hav­ing dis­tance re­quire­ments per­tain­ing to struc­ture and the prop­erty line. The draft will be brought to an up­com­ing work ses­sion to be dis­cussed later.

“The pro­vi­sion in the code is fairly sim­ple,” said Town Man­ager Daniel Mears. “It says poul­try is not al­lowed so the town staff will de­velop some­thing, work off of some of these rec­om­men­da­tions, then we can craft some lan­guage for the coun­cil’s con­sid­er­a­tion.”

Af­ter the coun­cil work ses­sion, the coun­cil also adopted res­o­lu­tion 16-10 con­cern­ing the Pub­lic Works Depart­ment’s pre-owned ser­vice ve­hi­cle pur­chase of a 2006 Peter­bilt dump truck and res­o­lu­tion 16-09 con­cern­ing the pur­chase of the in­spec­tion depart­ment ser­vice ve­hi­cle, a 6-C flex fu­eled Ford half ton pick-up truck with added op­tions.

The next coun­cil meet­ing is sched­uled for July 12.

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