Friday, April 19, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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Council votes 3-2 for ordinance allowing (some) chickens


Council omits some of the most stringent requirements proposed by city staff

Mebane’s city council decided to take a simple, straightforward approach to the idea of instituting a “chicken-friendly” city ordinance, overruling two more complicated recommendations from the city’s staff.

The council established a limit of eight chickens per acre. The staff had put forward two options: eight chickens in total or a second, more graduated approach that allowed eight chickens on lots under one acre, 16 chickens on lots of more than one acre.

The council did adopt the provision banning roosters altogether, and council members asked the city’s attorney to put together final language requiring owners to keep their chickens from straying onto neighboring properties and establishing penalties for owners who are unable to keep them from straying.

Several residents who live in or near Mebane made appeals to the city to keep its small-town charm.

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Tamara Watson who lives on Doe Run Road cautioned against adopting highly restrictive requirements that would turn the city “into Cary.”

[Story continues below photos of some of speakers during the city council’s consideration about chickens in Mebane.]

Tamara Watson
Josh Woodard
Matthew Lowe
Medora Burke-Scoll

She also challenged officials, “How many actual problems does this [proposed ordinance] address?”

Josh Woodard, said he didn’t keep chickens, but disagreed with some of the specificity about where chicken coops could be placed. He especially oppose a proposal that they be kept 25 feet from any property line, which he said would inevitably require the coops to be in the middle of backyards, or result in people who now keep chickens not being able to keep them.

“I think this is a solution in search of a problem that maybe doesn’t exist and is going to negatively impact more people than it’s going to help,” Woodard cautioned.

Woodard also noted that those with 6-foot high privacy fences around their yards are keeping their chickens to themselves. He said he had not even known one of his neighbors kept chickens for a year and a half since the chickens didn’t make much noise.

Medora Burke-Scoll, a 12-year veteran Eastern High School teacher, asked whether Mebane would retain its small town feel or become more like the “homogenous cookie-cutter” cities.

Matthew Lowe, 312 Woodlawn Drive, said the proposed restrictions would have a “huge effect” on his small business, later identified as Woodlawn Roots. Lowe acknowledged selling eggs to farmers’ markets, local restaurants from Greensboro to Raleigh, and residents. The staff’s original proposed ordinance would have prohibited allowing chickens for commercial purposes, but the second would have allowed chickens for both personal and commercial use.

Lowe suggested that if Mebane were going to borrow language from other cities’ ordinances, the city should look at Raleigh and Pittsboro ordinances which he described as being “more chicken-friendly for backyard farmers” than the proposals Mebane’s council was considering.

In a brief interview after the meeting, Lowe acknowledged that he would still be affected by the council’s adopted plan, which would limit him to 24 chickens on his three-acre farm. Lowe would not answer the newspaper’s question about how many chickens he currently has on his property. Lowe told the council that 22 percent of his farm’s business comes from selling eggs and poultry.
Several speakers challenged how much of a problem that chickens had actually been in the city. Mayor pro tem Tim Bradley, who presided over the July meeting in the absence of mayor Ed Hooks, said he had received three complaints.

But as council members turned to their own discussion about how to regulate the number of chickens, councilman Jonathan White expressed concern about the possibility of overregulating in response to the situation, a concern subsequently echoed by council member Katie Burkholder.

White recommended for a straightforward approach with three provisions: no roosters, a limit of eight chickens per acre, and developing a “sufficient mechanism to keep them out of neighbors’ yards.”

Councilman Sean Ewing tried to elicit a higher limit, of 20 per acre, but White would not modify his proposal. Meanwhile, council member Montrena Hadley, who had served for 20 years as the city’s planner, said she had found the existing provisions of the city’s nuisance ordinance sufficient to deal with problems that arose during her years at city hall.

When the vote was called, White’s motion passed, 3-2. White, Bradley, and
Burkholder voted for the ordinance. Ewing and Hadley voted against. In separate interviews after the vote, Ewing said he preferred a higher ceiling on the number of chickens, and Hadley reiterated her view that the city’s existing nuisance ordinance should be enough to handle any complaints about chickens.

The council skipped altogether the staff’s recommendation on establishing standards for size and height requirements for chicken coops, pens, and runs and where they should be located.

Read background (from July 7, 2022 edition of The Alamance News) about city’s staff proposals for regulating number of chickens, placement of chicken coops, etc.:

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