Knightdale takes next step in “suburban chickens” ordinance

mhankerson@newsobserver.comOctober 15, 2013 

— Residents may soon have another option for backyard features and family pets: a chicken coop.

At last week’s Town Council meeting, Knightdale senior planner Jeff Triezenberg presented a zoning amendment to the town’s Unified Development Ordinance. The amendment laid out the regulations for keeping suburban chickens.

Triezenberg said most hens produce eggs for three to four years and after that, families could keep the hens as pets.

Lots would be allowed up to five hens, but no roosters in an effort to reduce noise. Coops will require a permit, as they do for more rural areas of town, and will have to meet certain structural standards.

Coops will have to be completely enclosed, stand no taller than 8 feet and include nesting and space for exercise.

Any yard with a coop will have to have a 6-foot opaque fence, and coops must be at least 5 feet from any property line. Chickens will have to be in the coop at all times and stay in their henhouse at night.

Residents who want to own chickens will have to submit drawings of the coop when they apply for the permit.

At last week’s meeting, the council opened the floor for anybody with comments or concerns.

Mayor Russell Killen liked the idea of suburban chickens but wanted to address the size of coops.

He asked Triezenberg to add language in the amendment to put a cap on how big the coops can be.

“I think this is a good idea,” Killen said. “This is something that makes sense that we should be doing.”

‘Everyone else is doing it’

During his presentation, Triezenberg joked the town should consider the proposal because other towns were doing it.

He also noted the growing local foods movement, in which consumers are trying to be as close to the source of their food as possible.

Knightdale resident Meg Buckingham brought the idea of suburban chickens to the town’s planning committee. She told the council this was an opportunity not just for adults who wanted to have a more hands-on approach with their food, but also for children in the town.

“For our family, (this is) part of the movement to grow our own food (and) to have an educational experience for my son,” she said.

Buckingham said her son can learn how to take care of chickens and learn how to make his own food. With schools offering farming degrees, she said it was especially fitting for the town.

“(It) would be a fantastic opportunity for our family and I think a lot of kids in this area,” she told the council.

Even though the town is looking to make permanent changes to its code, Richard Hoyle at the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said he thinks backyard chickens may be a slowly passing trend.

“It’s people wanting safer food closer to home, but just because it’s produced closer to home doesn’t make it safer,” Hoyle said.

Hoyle said some people who decide to keep backyard chickens like to do it to make sure the chickens aren’t fed antibiotics or hormones. In most cases, Hoyle said, flocks of commercial chickens aren’t fed those either. It is illegal to inject animals that will be for sale with any hormones, and antibiotics have become more expensive. Hoyle said that in most cases, unless a chicken needs antibiotics, it probably isn’t getting any.

Hoyle said keeping a backyard flock could cause problems if any other birds interact with the chickens.

Other birds are often carriers of diseases that chickens are not immune to. Those diseases could easily wipe out a backyard flock, Hoyle said.

To help offset that possibility and to make sure backyards are clean and as nondisruptive as possible, Knightdale has created strict guidelines for the coops.

Around the Triangle, Chapel Hill passed an ordinance allowing backyard flocks of up to 10 chickens in 2007. Raleigh and Durham also allow backyard chickens. In August, after a few years of debate, Cary also OK’d backyard chickens.

Knightdale’s amendment, once revised to reflect the changes requested by Killen, will go to the Land Use Review Board for approval in the upcoming week.

After that, a section of the Town Code will have to be revised. There will be a public hearing for that revision and the final vote on the proposal will probably come in early November.

Hankerson: 919-829-4826; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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