Tighter Rules On Worcester Chicken Houses Dismissed

BERLIN – A recent request made by a local to see tougher restrictions on the placement of chicken houses in Worcester County was not well received by members of the county’s Planning Commission.

County resident Larry Ward presented the Planning Commission with a proposal to increase setbacks against new chicken houses. Ward hoped to convince the commission to expand the setbacks to the point where any new coops would have to be 150 feet from roads, 200 feet from property lines and 700 feet from residences not owned by the owner of the chicken house.

According to Ward, expanding setbacks is necessary from a health care standpoint.

“There have been a few questions why I would go through all this trouble,” said Ward. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Ward listed a number of health concerns in his application such as the emission of gases, like ammonium, making it dangerous to place a chicken coop close to a residential area.

“Something needs to be done about this,” he said.
However, many commissioners baulked at the dramatic increase to current county setbacks.

“You’d basically be doing away with poultry houses in the area,” Commissioner Madison Bunting told Ward after viewing a map of Whaleyville that had Ward’s suggested setbacks factored in.

Nearly all of Whaleyville was covered by the setbacks, leaving drastically limited room for new coops.

“I don’t know if we want to encourage more chicken houses to come here, anyway,” replied Ward.

County Commissioner Virgil Shockley was in attendance as a farmer and the owner of chicken houses. He came in front of the Planning Commission with counters to many of Ward’s arguments, especially the worry that chicken coops are major health risks.

“Larry, I don’t even wear a mask [in my chicken coop],” said Shockley, adding that he didn’t believe an overabundance of toxic fumes were created by chicken houses, at least not by ones that were properly managed.

Shockley pointed out that, while coops may create some ammonium, poultry farmers take serious precautions dealing with any dangerous gases or vapors. He stated that trees are usually planted to act as filters; coops are climate controlled, well ventilated and kept clean, despite Ward’s argument that chicken houses were often filthy and neglected.

“I’ve been growing chickens for 30 years,” Shockley told the assembly. “Every farm … has a nutrient management plan.”

Shockley also reminded the commission that “without poultry companies we wouldn’t have farms in Worcester County.”

“The new idea out there is that, we [poultry farmers] are going to be good neighbors,” Shockley said.

Ward remained unconvinced, however, restating that chicken houses were more dangerous to residential areas than the commission believed.

“There’s a human factor here,” he told them.

Commissioner Wayne Hartman agreed that there was a “human factor” but defined it differently than Ward did.

Hartman expressed the opinion that Worcester was an agricultural county and that accepting the proposed setbacks would greatly limit that.

“It’s contradictory to the comprehensive plan,” said Ed Tudor, the county’s Director of Development Review and Permitting.

In a unanimous vote, the Planning Commission chose not to endorse Ward’s plan. While it is possible that a County Commissioner might pick up the proposal and add it to a meeting’s agenda, without the Planning Commission’s support, it is unlikely the setbacks will ever become law.