Majority Against Backyard Chickens?

Brent Finnegan -- July 15th, 2009

Debate over allowing backyard chickens in the city has gone on longer then the MSM’s Michael Jackson coverage. But how many people will benefit from allowing the the hens within the city limits? Mayor Kai Degner writes that he agrees with most of the arguments in favor of backyard birds, but indicates that he’s leaning toward voting against it because he’s “hearing a significant majority opinion against allowing chickens.”

There’s a public hearing on the issue scheduled for Tuesday, July 28.

34 Responses to “Majority Against Backyard Chickens?”

  1. Emmy says:

    Well the majority of people I’ve talked to about it are against it as well. I wouldn’t say I’ve talked to tons of people about the issue, but I’ve yet to talk to one person in favor. I’ve met a few who think it might be OK, but would prefer that it not happen. Most people I’ve encountered think that those who want to have chickens have no idea what they’d be signing up for.

  2. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    I thought this line from Kai’s explanation was great: “To overturn public opinion, I must believe a moral imperative or value is at stake.” That would be a great credo for anyone serving as an elected representative of the people.

  3. Callie says:

    I guess I don’t really understand the arguments against the chickens. My family has had a small flock (4-6 hens) for years. My parents live in the county, and they allow their flock to “free range”. In all the years my mom has had her flock, I have never smelled them. They have NEVER been sick. They are not noisy (in fact I think their cooing is a rather comforting sound). I don’t think their neighbors (and they have neighbors living in rather close proximity) would even know that they have chickens. To me, the property value, disease, smell, and noise arguments don’t hold a lot of water. I also don’t think that if the city decides to allow chickens that people will want goats or cows next. I would rather live next door to someone who owns a small flock of chickens than a few loud barking dogs

  4. DebSF says:

    A lot of the other ways you can change your lifestyle have little or no direct day-to-day impact on your neighbor. Eat whole foods, recycle, buy fresh foods (and egss!) from the farmers market, use twirly light bulbs, walk when you can ride, the list goes on and on.

    Chickens, maybe not so much.

  5. JGFitzgerald says:

    The public opinion comment is crap. That’s why we have representative democracy instead of participatory democracy. Council members should decide issues based on what is in the best interests of the city, not on what the most people want. Simonedes’ “good man” was one who knew what was best and right for his city. Not one who pandered to public opinion .

  6. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Carrying out the will of your constituents is not pandering, especially when you’ve taken the time to listen to them before making up your mind. People who support and oppose backyard chickens each feel they have the best interest of the city on their side.

  7. JGFitzgerald says:

    Except that it works backwards from the way it’s expressed: if an issue is a tossup otherwise, then decide it based on public opinion. You listen to the public for the same reason you listen to the experts or the people with a vested interest: To see what information or ideas they can give you. Deciding based purely on public opinion isn’t government — it’s referendum. California rules by referendum, and their government is like the worst of Pentagon procurement nightmares: it won’t work, or it won’t fly, and you often can’t fire it.

  8. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Hence the second part of the phrase, “To overturn public opinion, I must believe a moral imperative or value is at stake.”

  9. Deb SF says:

    “To overturn public opinion, I must believe a moral imperative or value is at stake.”

    Re: chickens, good god, what on earth does that even mean? The moral imperative of chickens? Maybe I’ve been grading too many term papers today, but when I read that, I just had to laugh. I mean, this is not an issue with great moral implications. Not even close. It’s f%^$ing chickens, fer heavens sake!!!!

  10. megan says:

    Ha, how do you really feel Deb? :)

  11. Deb SF says:

    That nobody should be that damned serious about chickens!!!!!!!

    What is it with this issue? Jeez, even the WSJ had a chicken piece today!

  12. JGFitzgerald says:

    I wonder about this too sometimes. (Yeah, I know. I could walk in the other room and have this conversation.) I know nobody at the local level is this sophisticated, but it’s the kind of issue that easily distracts, for instance, the DNR, while dangerous and galling precedents sneak through almost unseen on zoning and development issues.

  13. seth says:

    …and projected shortfalls turn into undue bonuses w/o anyone raising so much as an eyebrow.

  14. Deb SF says:

    The buzz surrounding this issue is fascinating; the level of chatter is on target to approach level of that associated with the golf course and the high school controversies The economic implications are tiny compared to multi-million dollar expenditures and bond issues connected to those projects (you can reverse course easily and at low cost on this ordinance change), but the political implications could be pretty serious for council members. Time to pop the popcorn!

    And I’m betting we’ll see more letters like this in advance of the next meeting:

    in the DNR. “Degnerites” ? Who knew?

  15. Andy Perrine says:

    I agree with Deb that deciding the chicken issue is taking too much of our city government’s time and energy (and that from a person who is committed to sustainable living). But I believe that Mayor Degner is expressing a more universal principal when he states, “To overturn public opinion, I must believe a moral imperative or value is at stake.” This about governing writ large, not just chickens.

    I’ve spoken with Kai about the chicken thing and he also expresses surprise at the passion behind this debate. Yet, to express a standard decision making principal such as, “To overturn public opinion, I must believe a moral imperative or value is at stake,” is a great step to sensible governing that all of us can understand and live with — whether the issue is galactic or chicken.

  16. JGFitzgerald says:

    It’s still funny that the first time moral imperatives come up is in relation to chickens. One doesn’t have to find out where the people are going so that one may lead them.

  17. To be honest, I really don’t care that much about this issue. When I first wrote about it, it was the first I had heard of urban/suburban poultry. But as with all news stories, there are always bigger, more important ones that take back burner; Michael Jackson vs Iran, Sanford vs Honduras, etc. Surely the city budget and zoning are more important than chickens. But that’s just the way things are.

    I probably lean more towards the “allow it” crowd, if only because I think it’s a double standard to allow big, barking, digging, pooping dogs while banning chickens. But whatever.

  18. Jamie Smith says:

    “Moral imperative.” Pretty high toned language about chickens!
    Degenrites don’t have no morals anyways, so save the big words for the next time Forbes wants a building permit.
    JGF, your definitions are mostly correct but when you don’t listen to the people who elected you, (i.e. public opinion) you don’t get reelected.
    As to why so much time is spent on chickens, it’s something all council people can grasp and get their arms around. Wait until a ten or fifteen million bond issue comes up for discussion and most will defer to the consultants. They will be out of their league.
    Finnegan, get yourself a dog. It will be the best friend you ever had. Feed it chicken twice a day and it will love you forever!

  19. David Miller says:

    Haven’t taken the time (yet, sorry) to read the discussion above but wanted to voice my opposition to the project even though I still want chickens, I just don’t want my neighbors having them. The libertarian in me wants them but the realist cringes at the thought

  20. Andy Perrine says:

    There’s a libertarian in you, David?! For godsakes man, let him out!

  21. Harvey Yoder says:

    Maybe the real issue isn’t about fowl, but about allowing people as much freedom as possible as long as it doesn’t create a significant nuisance or health problem. If this were a dog free city, and some folks were interested in having a few canines in their back yards, would we be raising the same kinds of questions? A few laying hens as a hobby would be a lot quieter and produce a lot less manure.

  22. Jamie Smith says:

    Harvey, most good dog owners take care of their dog’s manure in a safe way. Dogs have been known as “man’s best friend” for eons. Your comparison doesn’t hold doodoo.
    By the way, have you ever dropped your chewing gum in a chicken yard?

  23. Emmy says:

    “Harvey, most good dog owners take care of their dog’s manure in a safe way. ”

    Hmmm, am I mistaken or didn’t someone figure out that the problem in Black’s Run is animal feces? I really could be wrong, but I thought it was dog deification that was the problem. Isn’t that where the award winning “Do Your Doodie” campaign came from?

    His comparison does hold “doodoo” though because I know of quite a few dog owner’s that I would NOT want to live next to. It really comes down to the living conditions of the animal, and your neighbors.

  24. Harvey Yoder says:

    Thanks, Jamie, for your response.

    I don’t have any problem with your first two statements, but for the sake of discussion, couldn’t we assume that “most good owners” of their four layers would also “take care of their (chicken) manure in a safe way”? I grew up on a farm, and believe me, the quantity of doodoo in question would be minor compared that produced by a German Shepherd.

    And while many consider dogs “best friends” in cultures like ours, not everyone in a given neighborhood may share those feelings. But that shouldn’t be the issue. All that should matter is that people be able to believe what they want, like or dislike what they want, and to be allowed to pursue whatever hobbies or interests they wish–backyard parrots, fish ponds, or pet snakes–as long as they’re not bothering or endangering others.

    By this I’m not saying backyard chickens should be allowed, only that the criteria used to decide should be fair and equitable, and allow for as much individual freedom as possible.

  25. Harvey Yoder says:

    Thanks for your comment, too, Emmy,

    I even got a chuckle our of your inadvertent use of the word “deification” instead of “defecation.” But, hey, maybe that’s the solution, to deify chickens like some people do their canines, giving them an elevated status not afforded most other species.

    Just kidding.

  26. Emmy says:

    Haha that’s what happens when I type too fast, and select the wrong word from the spell check in my haste! Multi-tasking at its finest.

  27. JGFitzgerald says:

    Actually, one study (based on type of bacteria, if I recall) showed that most Blacks Run pollution was caused by ducks. I don’t know why that still cracks me.

  28. Harvey Yoder says:

    Like Deb, I’m not sure either whether this issue rises to the level of being a weighty civic matter, even though I tend to agree with some of my good friends who believe its all about freedom and fairness.

    Tongue in cheek, maybe those interested should be allowed to keep up to four of Harrisonburg’s free ranging ducks in their back yard and away from Blacks Run. We’ve already had some hanging around where I work on Newman Avenue, and they haven’t caused any problems. Besides, ducks are excellent for keeping slugs and other undesirable pests out of backyard gardens (and lay large, perfectly edible eggs!).

  29. Karl says:

    Letter to the editor in today’s DNR (7/23) on the chickens is a bit outrageous. Ernie Didot who writes the letter calls out pitbulls “straining at the leash” as decreasing home values more than chickens. I would argue Mr. Didot knows nothing about pit bulls other than the irresponsible reporting of the media on pit bull attacks. As the owner of three pit bulls I assure the letter writer that I wouldn’t want to see a dog house or a chicken coop next to my home…as a companion animal the dogs belong in the actual home and as poultry the chickens belong on a farm or in my stomach.

  30. Emmy says:

    He shouldn’t have singled out pits, but I would assume you are a responsible pit bull owner when so many others are not. There’s a reason that the majority of pit bulls who end up in animal shelters have to be put down. The media would have nothing to report if people who owned pit bulls knew what they were doing. Same is true for a lot of other breeds as well.

    I’m not really in favor of the chickens, but having two children if I had to pick between chickens or pit bulls at the house next door, I’d pick chickens. His points are valid, even if they are unfair to a certain dog breed.

  31. Karl says:

    No City Span for the “big” meeting…at least not at 7:03pm

  32. I wish City Span was online — at least streaming audio. I’m stuck at work with no TV. But it sounds like that might not matter anyway, if it’s not on TV.

  33. JGFitzgerald says:

    Ironically, when the tech person was shown, briefly, standing at the microphone tapping at it the way people do (“Test. Test. Is this on?”) there didn’t appear to be enough people in the auditorium to make it worthwhile to move the meeting from the council chambers where, presumably, the feed works. Of course there may have been more people there than it looked like, and there may be fewer trying to watch in on TV that one might guess. So it’s not a perfect irony.

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