Effort Underway To Prevent Ban On Backyard Chickens

BERLIN – Backyard chickens should not be banned, according to some Berlin residents, despite the recent controversy over one resident’s pet poultry.

“There’s a lot more people in town that have chickens and are doing it right,” said Kate Patton, who is thinking of adding chickens to her property to produce healthy eggs and teach her children about where food comes from. “I don’t think the council really wants to get rid of them. I think this has really been blown out of proportion.”

A first reading was held Monday night on legislation banning poultry and other farm animals within Berlin town limits, except on agricultural land.

The new ordinance was created in response to a disagreement with resident Elizabeth Fisher, who has been keeping chickens in her backyard. Neighbors have complained about the chicken, saying they are noisy and disruptive.

The Berlin Board of Zoning Appeals recently ruled that Fisher is violating the town’s zoning code by keeping the chickens on her property. Fisher may reportedly appeal that decision to Circuit Court.

The town’s proposed ban might not pass easily when it comes before the Berlin Mayor and Council in early November for a public hearing and council approval.

Patton proposed treating backyard poultry as other municipalities do, by regulating rather than banning laying hens, while saying no to roosters and geese, which tend to make noise and disturb neighbors. For example, Baltimore City allows urban chickens with restrictions on numbers and location.

“If somebody had a dog that was totally out of hand, they wouldn’t ban dogs in town,” Patton said. “I’m hoping the council is not looking at restricting chickens entirely.”

Patton, who has written to the town expressing her support for back yard chickens in Berlin, said that she has spoken to several residents who keep chickens responsibly.

“I don’t think they should be punished for one person’s mistakes,” she said.

Berlin Councilwoman Lisa Hall sided with Patton on this issue.

“There’s a lot of people in Berlin that keep laying hens in their backyard,” said Hall. “You don’t even know they have them.”

Subdivisions may be more restrictive as they choose, Patton said.

“We’re a farm town,” said Hall, who grew up on a chicken farm and who supports people keeping their own chickens for health and environmental reasons. “We still grow crops on farmland within town limits.”

In a letter to the town council, Patton called a chicken ban “an affront to our heritage.”

The council will hold a public hearing on the proposed farm animal ban at its Nov. 9 meeting and may vote on the ordinance that evening.

The proposed amendment to the ordinance defines farm animals as “any domesticated animal customarily kept on a farm including but not necessarily limited to horses, ponies, cattle, hogs, goats, sheep, ponies, bison and burros.”

Poultry are also specifically defined in the amendment: “Domesticated fowl to include chickens, ducks, geese, pheasants, guineas, turkeys, pigeons, rheas, emus or ostriches.”        

Berlin Mayor Gee Williams said the intent of the ordinance is to clear up any gray area that may current exist.

“The purpose of the ordinance is to be much more specific so there’s no arguing of what is allowed and what is not allowed,” he said.

The proposed amendment to the ordinance reads: “A: No person shall keep, own, maintain, use or have in his possession any live poultry within the corporate limits of the Town of Berlin except as allowed by Chapter 107 Zoning of the Town Code.

“B: No person shall keep, maintain, use or have in his possession any farm animals within the Town of Berlin except as allowed by Chapter 107 Zoning of the Town Code.”

Fines for transgressing the amended ordinance would be $75 for the first offense and $100 for each following offense.

“Let’s not assume this will be rectified at the next meeting,” said Council member Dean Burrell Monday night.

“I would totally agree with that,” said Berlin Councilwoman Paula Lynch.

One citizen would not wait for the public hearing on Nov. 9, insisting on speaking at Town Hall at Monday night’s meeting.

“I fought in a war in Berlin Germany for equal rights,” said a man who did not identify himself. “I came back here to Berlin, Md. and what do I get? People denying equal rights … I’m contemptible of the whole dad-gummed shooting match.”

Urban chickens are a growing trend across the United States, and Berlin is not unlike other municipalities dealing with similar issues.

“It allows people to be more self-sufficient whether it’s the economy or the environment,” Patton said of chicken keeping. “It connects kids to food, where it comes from.”