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City council to decide whether to allow chickens in Mebane, and – if so – how many


Mebane’s city council will turn next week to consideration of an ordinance to establish and formalize a city policy with regard to allowing chickens and prohibiting roosters within city limits.

The issue had been on the council’s agenda for June 6, but council members decided, at the urging of councilman Tim Bradley, to postpone deliberations until their July 11 meeting so that they could get public comment on the issue.

According to background materials prepared for the council’s deliberations, the city has no ordinance addressing the issue (other than nuisance provisions), but has begun to receive a number of complaints about chickens.

At issue is how many chickens – more precisely described as “backyard hens” – should be allowed for property owners within city limits. Chickens and coops for them would be allowed in single-family neighborhoods, but not in apartment complexes, condominiums, townhouses, or patio homes.

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The proposal before the council in June would have specified that there should be no more than eight hens allowed per lot “regardless of size and number of dwelling units except in those areas zoned for agricultural uses.”

Roosters would be banned altogether, their early morning wake-up calls typically being considered an unnecessary nuisance.

The chicken coops, when allowed, would be required to be in the backyards behind residences.

A chicken coop (defined as a “roofed-housing structure where hens are kept”) would be allowed, as would “enclosed pens,” “enclosed runs,” and “open runs.”

The enclosed areas would be bounded on all sides, including overhead, by a fence, cage, or wire. An open run is defined as surrounded by fence, cage, or wire, except overhead.

The maximum allowable size of coops and runs was proposed as 300 square feet, with a maximum height of 7 feet and minimum height of 4 feet.

Areas within the coops, pens, or runs “shall be kept in a neat and sanitary condition,” the proposed ordinance states, “including the removal of droppings, uneaten feed, feather and other waste, in order to preclude odors and other nuisance violations.”

Since the issue got postponed in June, city manager Chris Rollins told the newspaper during an interview last week that the city has gotten feedback suggesting requests for a more varied limit. Rollins said Mebane had always been considered “chicken friendly,” although with no specific allowances or limitations.

In particular, Rollins says city officials have reviewed the idea of making the numbers of chickens limited, perhaps based on the size of the lot or acreage of the homeowner, rather than a flat, or across-the-board ceiling of eight chickens as was originally proposed in June.

So, for instance, a two- or three-acre lot could have a higher allowable chicken count than a typical quarter-acre lot in a subdivision, Rollins cited as one example.


Revisions to be considered next week
As of press time Wednesday, the agenda for Monday night’s meeting included some revised limits that maintain the proposed limit of eight for lots in a typical subdivision, but doubles that number for homes on lots with more than one acre.

The revised ordinance also includes turkeys, ducks, and geese within the number of “chickens or fowl” allowed by each property owner within city limits, although it appears that the expanded definition does not limit the number of turkeys, ducks, or geese, based on the draft language of the revised ordinance.

The revised ordinance also does away with a proposed prohibition on commercial use of keeping chickens that had been in the June proposal. The allowance for commercial use would also apply to the fowl (turkeys, ducks, and geese) brought within the ordinance’s provisions. “All aspects of the keeping of hens, including keeping chicks, eggs, manure, compost and other related attributes and activities,” would be allowed for personal or commercial use, according to the revised ordinance.

The revised proposed ordinance also delays the effective date for 60 days, whereas the original would have made it effective immediately upon adoption by the city council.
The ordinance does specify that there is no “grandfathering” for current homeowners who have chickens. They would be subject to the same limitations being proposed (eight for lots smaller than an acre, 16 for those larger than an acre).

The city council meets at 6:00 p.m. Monday night, July 11. (The meeting date was postponed because the first Monday, its traditional meeting date, coincided with the Fourth of July.) The council will entertain public comments about the issue, but did not set a more formal public hearing on the issue.

Just about one year ago, in May 2021, Burlington’s city council ultimately voted 3-2 against opening the door for backyard chickens in that city, quashing a proposed ordinance to allow up to four hens on residents’ properties.

Read coverage of other planning and zoning issues that will be on the city council’s agenda for Monday night (July 11).

Planning board recommends two townhouse projects along North First Street, one with 42 townhouses, the other with 150:

Summit Church gets ok from planning board for church construction at corner of Mebane Oaks and Old Hillsborough Roads:

Cell tower proposed off I-85/40 near Trollingwood-Hawfields Road:

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