Burlington’s city council has decided to shut the barn door on a proposed rule change that would’ve allowed the city’s residents to raise small flocks of chickens behind their dwellings.
The council ultimately rejected this so-called backyard chicken ordinance by a margin of 3-to-2 during a regularly-scheduled meeting on Tuesday. The council rendered this verdict exactly two weeks after a public hearing, which drew a bare peep of support for the proposed ordinance from the city’s residents.
The council’s vote not to legalize backyard chickens was one of several decisions that its members had deferred following public hearings in April. In each case, the council postponed its final decision to give residents more time to submit written comments as mandated under a state statute that has allowed local government bodies to hold meetings remotely during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In the case of the ordinance on backyard chickens, the extended comment period apparently attracted quite a few additional remarks from Burlington’s residents. Prior to Tuesday’s decision, Burlington’s city clerk Beverly Smith indicated that she had received a total of 17 written submissions about the proposed ordinance, although she didn’t provide any details about the contents of these messages or the people who sent them.
Yet, the generally positive feedback that the council had previously received about backyard chickens proved persuasive enough to Burlington’s mayor pro tem Kathy Hykes. Hykes ultimately made a motion to adopt the proposed ordinance based on the favorable reception it has received from much of the public. Although her motion died for the lack of a second, it didn’t discourage the mayor pro tem from making her case to the rest of the council.
“I do feel as though enough people have responded to this and said they would like to have this opportunity, and other cities have managed this well enough that it’s still on the books.”
– Mayor pro tem kathy hykes
“I do feel as though enough people have responded to this and said they would like to have this opportunity,” she acknowledged on Tuesday, “and other cities have managed this well enough that it’s still on the books.”
Hykes was eventually joined in her stance on the ordinance by Burlington’s mayor Ian Baltutis. Although he didn’t offer a second to the mayor pro tem’s moribund motion, Baltutis acknowledged the “tremendous public comment” that the city has received about backyard chickens. The mayor also commended city staff members on drafting an ordinance that balanced the wishes of would-be chicken owners with the concerns of detractors by limiting the potential size of backyard flocks to a maximum of four hens.
“I think it would do a tremendous disservice to the community to not give [the new ordinance allowing four chickens] the full time of day.”
– Burlington mayor ian baltutis
“We did a good job on this one,” he went on to add of the ordinance. “I think it would do a tremendous disservice to the community to not give it the full time of day.”
Councilman Jim Butler acknowledged the mayor’s point about the outpouring of feedback from area residents. He nevertheless added that the comments he’s seen have included some rather strong opinions both for, and against, backyard chickens, feeding his own misgivings that such a contentious measure may not be in the best interests of the city as a whole.
The proposed ordinance also raised the hackles of councilman Harold Owen, who argued that the legalization of backyard chickens may have unintended consequences in some of the city’s more densely populated neighborhoods.
“This request would create substantial issues not only in some new developments, but I also have worries about east Burlington [where] development was done in the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. . . and I see a substantial challenge with this kind of policy in those communities.”
– burlington city councilman harold owen
“This request would create substantial issues not only in some new developments,” he said, “but I also have worries about east Burlington [where] development was done in the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s….and I see a substantial challenge with this kind of policy in those communities.”
In the end, Butler and Owen were joined by councilman Bob Ward in their vote to scuttle the proposed ordinance, while Baltutis and Hykes opposed the measure’s rejection.