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Updated: 01/28/2014 04:00:24PM

Fort Meade chicken issue still open for debate

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A proposed ordinance permitting fowl within city limits was tabled during its first reading at the Fort Meade City Commission Meeting Jan. 14 and is expected to undergo further revision and discussion.

The proposed ordinance would have permitted chickens (except roosters) within city limits under certain conditions regarding their permitting, containment, and waste disposal. Currently, all fowl is prohibited.

The ordinance was drafted in response to a growing “chicken problem” that started in early September regarding roaming free-range chickens within city limits, creating nuisances for residents and causing damage to their property.

On Nov.12, the city commission requested drafted revisions to the city code using suggestions from commissioners and the planning and zoning Board, along with references from other city ordinances regarding fowl.

These proposed revisions were presented for review and discussion during the Commission meeting on Dec. 10, with city commissioners instructing that these revisions be returned to the planning and zoning board for further revision and consideration.

The revisions made by the planning and zoning board were returned to the commission during the Jan. 14 meeting.

Further revisions included the prohibition of fowl on residential rental property, with the exception of students keeping fowl for school projects, who would be required to meet all other requirements as well as obtain written permission from the property owner.

The proposed ordinance would have permitted chickens within city limits, whereas currently all fowl and farm animals are prohibited. Residents in violation of current city code have had their citations placed on hold during these discussions, code enforcement officer Melanie McVay explained.

When asked how these revisions will help alleviate the city’s current “chicken problem,” McVay explained that it will allow them to better permit and track chickens within city limits, whereas currently tracking the chickens has been a much more cumbersome task.

“It will give the ability for us to have a tool to work with,” she explained. “We will be putting in a tracking system, a new program to be able to track the fowl and the violations.”

City commissioner Barbara Manley expressed her confusion as to how these revisions would solve the problem, explaining that fowl will still be running loose even after the chickens have been permitted within city limits.

City planner April Brown replied with an analogy to speed limits.

“If there were no speed limits, we would all be driving how we want to,” Brown explained. “But the fact that there are speed limits, we all adhere to, or we try to adhere to the posted speed limit, and if we don’t, we get a ticket.”

Manley noted that even with speed limits, law enforcement officers patrol the highway to ensure that drivers are obeying the speed limit. In this regard, she asked who would be policing the chickens.

Commissioner Rick Cochrane shared in her concern about enforcing the new permitting process, worrying that it would possibly be too cumbersome and burdensome for code enforcement to enforce, and would detract them from more pertinent issues.

“I know these chickens are a problem, but I don’t want our code enforcement officer chasing fowl because she has better things to do with her time,” Cochrane said. “When you start a permitting process, you are putting shackles on her. We need to look at this and see the best possible way to handle it.”

Brown replied that she would eliminate the permitting process if the commission felt it was unnecessary.

When the discussion was open to public, one resident, David Ayers, approached the group to express his concerns about the proposed regulations.

As a resident for 26 years whose wife has always raised chicken, Ayers prefers to raise his own fowl, as he considers their meat to be much healthier than the store-bought variety.

While he felt that residents who allow their chickens to roam loose should be regulated and fined, he felt that the proposed revisions would also hurt law-abiding residents who peaceably raise their fowl.

He also took umbrage as to how these revisions would only allow for chickens but no other fowl. This troubled him, as he is currently keeping geese and duck which he had recently rescued from being used as target practice. He felt that other animals should be kept as long as they are not acting as a nuisance.

“If they are contained, why prohibit them?” he asked.

Commissioners decided to table the proposed ordinance until the next meeting. They instructed Brown to continue with the revisions and to review other city ordinances outside of the Polk County area for reference.

As for the current law, commissioners instructed McVay to focus on eliminating the free-roaming chickens until a decision was made on the revisions.

During the meeting, Bob Elliott was appointed as the new mayor with Maurice Nelson as Vice Mayor. The positions rotate among the five commissioners on a yearly basis.

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