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Chicken debate heats up in Annapolis

Tuesday - 3/20/2012, 8:39am  ET

chicken debate Annapolis (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
A chicken supporter brings along a little help. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)

Michelle Basch, wtop.com

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Chicken coops aren't just for the farm anymore.

Raising chickens in the city is a practice that's becoming more common nationwide.

Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen has proposed an ordinance to allow city residents to keep as many as five hens, but no roosters, on their properties.

"In Annapolis, and I think all across the country, there's a renewed push toward sustainability," says Cohen. "People want to know where their food comes from, and they want to support restaurants that source their food locally."

"It also extends to our own backyards, where people are not only doing much more gardening themselves, but they want to do backyard chickens," he says.

Cohen says his mother-in-law keeps chickens outside the city, and his kids enjoy feeding the hens and collecting the eggs.

"It helps reconnect my kids with the food chain and where their food actually comes from," he says.

At a City Council meeting Monday night, Jessica Pachler spoke out in favor of the ordinance.

"Chickens are domesticated animals. If residents of the city...are allowed to have dogs, cats, rats, snakes and other domesticated animals, we should be allowed to have chickens as well," says Pachler.

Pachler is among those who launched a Facebook page to urge passage of the ordinance.

Cohen proposed amendments to the plan Monday night to improve its chances of passage.

"The bill originally started out very permissive. But in response to some concerns expressed by residents as well as some members of the City Council, we're taking a more permitting approach where there's now a checklist that you have to meet, there's going to be inspections, (and) you have to apply for a permit," he says.

But instead of voting to approve the plan, council agreed newly approved amendments changed the ordinance so much that another public hearing should be held on the plan next month.

One amendment would end the backyard chicken program after three years if it's not renewed by the council.

Another requires residents who want backyard chickens to get approval from their immediate neighbors first.

Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson says she's getting nothing but negative calls from constituents.

She says she doesn't think the council has all the information it needs. Finlayson says her research has found that as hens age, they lay significantly fewer eggs, yet their life span is 8 to 20 years.

One amendment proposed by Cohen, and then withdrawn, would have only allowed the city to issue a total of 24 permits for backyard chickens.

Areas that currently allow residential chickens include New York City, Baltimore City and Seattle. Hens also are allowed in residential areas of Takoma Park, Md.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)