Annapolis mom Jessica Pachler has long bought eggs from a local farmer in the name of environmental responsibility and healthful eating.
But for years she has wanted to go further, so she and other residents began lobbying the city for the right to keep egg-laying chickens in their backyards. And they won.
Annapolis Mayor Joshua J. Cohen signed into law last week an ordinance allowing city residents to keep hens on their property — legislation that was the subject of fierce debate over issues ranging from the smell of chicken waste to the sound of roosters crowing.
The city's Department of Neighborhood and Environmental Programs has scheduled a forum this month to explain the permitting process for residents interested in owning chickens. Pachler, who lives in Eastport, is the only city resident who has applied.
"My husband and I have been proponents of shopping and buying locally, supporting farmers' markets, and we wanted to expand that a little bit to having chickens," said Pachler, an event planner, writer and stay-at-home mother of three children. "The great thing about chickens is they have eggs. They're teaching kids not just about taking care of animals, but showing them where their food comes from."
The so-called chicken bill, which the council passed 6-3, allows a resident to own up to five hens on a single property. Roosters are banned.
Owners must construct a coop for the hens with at least 2 square feet per chicken and a separate 10 square feet of run space. Would-be chicken owners must get written permission from abutting property owners and are required to register their chickens with the state.
The ordinance expiries in three years, at which point the council will reconsider the legislation. (Only egg-laying hens are allowed; raising chickens to eat is not allowed.)
Maria Broadbent, director of the Department of Neighborhood and Environmental Programs, said the legislative process took into account expert testimony and concerns from residents. The bill was introduced last year and was amended to add the three-year sunset provision and the requirement that owners receive approval from neighbors.
"It started out as a really simple bill, but as you can imagine, we put a lot of thought into it," Broadbent said. "I've worked in government for 20 years, and this is one of the hardest pieces of legislation to get passed, but it was one that came about through community initiative, so for that, it's exciting to see that group of people get this piece of legislation passed."
Annapolis' chicken bill is one of several passed in communities across the country in recent years as part of a renewed emphasis on local sources of food, according to city officials.
Alderman Ross Arnett, an Eastport Democrat and one of three aldermen who voted against the measure, said he opposed allowing residents to own chickens because "chickens do smell. They do draw rodents."
"People were telling me, 'I want to live in the city. I don't want to live on a farm,'" Arnett said. "If you want to have chickens, go live in a rural area. Farming is hard work, and being a gentleman farmer is something that may have an appeal for a little while. But bottom line, I felt this is a complication we didn't need to invite into city life."
Pachler said she hopes that when people become more educated about chickens, the opposition will dissipate.
"A lot of people have fears about having chickens in urban settings," said Pachler. "But five hens create less waste than a medium-size dog."
The forum will take place at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 30, at the Annapolis Area Library, 1410 West St., Annapolis. Information: Cameron Caswell, 410-222-1750, or Jeanna Beard, 410-263-7946.
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