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Mayor breaks vote:Chickens permitted
Mayor breaks vote:Chickens permitted
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
Burton Village needed its mayor Monday to decide whether chickens would find their place in residential neighborhoods.
Mayor Thomas Blair Sr. said yes.
"I truly cannot see any harm in it, and I vote yes," Mr. Blair said.
His vote was needed after council voted 3-3 on the issue that began at the request of South Cheshire Street resident Dee Holt. He said he also believes the legislation should be reviewed on an ongoing basis.
Like council, the village's populace appeared divided on the issue with some of the 30 residents in attendance voicing either support or opposition to the idea.
The legislation allows residents with larger lots in single-family districts to keep up to six chickens or ducks, based on the state's definition of poultry. Roosters, however, will not be permitted.
Discussion began with Council President Linda Swaney calling on about 30 people who showed up for the issue for ideas that may make the legislation stronger. She said the issue was "certainly a controversial one" that council has "struggled vehemently" with.
Councilman Charles Hauser said he tried to look at the issue from every side possible but believes too many problems could be caused by allowing chickens.
He cited a fire at a chicken coop in Claridon Township caused by a keeper who attempted to keep his chickens warm in the winter. He also questioned whether people keeping chickens would be able to clean the manure when 3 feet of snow separates a home from the coop.
Mrs. Holt responded that the fire in Claridon was caused by a space heater that was left in the coop. She said responsible people would use a heat lamp rather than a space heater. She said a space heater should be used only if is bolted to the wall and is allowed to alternate between on and off.
She said chickens began as wild birds from South America, and some breeds have adapted to surviving cold winters just as sparrows and blue jays do.
Her husband, Kevin, said special heat lamps are used with the bulbs enclosed.
Mr. Hauser also said he fears chickens would begin attracting predators, such as dogs, bears, coyotes, skunks, raccoons and rats.
Mrs. Holt said she keeps three bird dogs with her chickens with no problem. She said there are predators for everything, including humans, and the feral cat problem in the village poses a bigger risk, but nothing is done about it.
"You can't anticipate everything that might come down the road," she said. But she said the village has prepared an "airtight" ordinance that provides the maximum protections for village residents and chickens.
Councilman Gerald Rouge agreed with Mrs. Holt, saying the ordinance is "very restrictive" in who can keep chickens and what steps must be taken to ensure they do not cause annoyance for neighbors. "It's pretty darn hard for anyone in this village to have chickens," he said, referring to the lot sizes and setbacks required in the ordinance.
The enclosures required for chickens are also very restrictive, he said. "It's a heckuva lot more contained for dogs or cats." He invited residents to read the ordinance to see how restrictive it is.
Law Director Todd Hicks said the ordinance also prohibits the sale of eggs or chickens.
Karolyn Squire, a member of the village's planning commission who voted against recommending the measure to council, cited several issues she raised in May when the planning commission decided the issue.
She questioned how the manure would be handled in the winter, whether the village would see more rats or other vermin, whether a coop could be built strong enough to deter all predators, whether there will be problems with odors and diseases and whether keeping chickens would hamper neighbors' efforts to sell their homes. She also questioned whether the legislation would set a precedent for residents to keep other livestock.
Mr. Hicks credited Mrs. Squire with providing enough dissent on the issue to allow the village to be extra careful and write a restrictive piece of legislation. "Without dissenters, we wouldn't see legislation this tight," he said.
He said odors are expected to be controlled because storage of manure must be limited to no more than a 20-gallon container.
He said allowing chickens does not open the door to other livestock. "Each issue is going to be considered on its own merits by the planning commission and then council," he said.
Mr. Hicks said diseases should be controlled by the regulations dealing with enclosures for the animals and how manure can be handled.
He said, if a problem arises, there is a $25-per-day fine that can be levied and police have the authority to remove the chickens if problems persist.
He said odor problems may be subjective, but enough objective requirements can be used to determine whether residents are using proper care for the animals.
Resident James Wohlken said he encounters dog excrement on sidewalks in the village and horse manure in the streets. During certain times of the year, he said, residents are asked to put up with llama and goat manure. But he said none of that seems to bother residents.
"As long as it's handled properly, there is no problem," Mr. Wohlken said.
He said his son keeps chickens and is teaching his son where food comes from rather than getting it wrapped in plastic from a supermarket. He said there has never been a problem with odors and that many of the fears are unfounded.
"Rats are in every town," Mr. Wohlken said. "And coyotes may come and eat your children if you listen to Fox News."
Catherine Sutter, another village resident, said chickens are fine for those living on larger lots in the township. She said she has friends living on a 3-acre lot in Chester Township, and there are problems with noise. She said residents in the village should think of their neighbors before bringing in chickens.
Mr. Rouge again defended the legislation saying there is little chance that chickens would roam any farther than their contained area. "They are about as free-range as a canary in a cage in your house," he said.
Mr. Hauser said there is a chance that the property owner's child could be asked to tend the chickens and forget to latch the gate.
Councilman Jeff Coleman said, even in that scenario, it would not be the worst thing that could happen in the village. "What happens if six chickens are running at large in the village? That would be a disaster, wouldn't it, Charlie?"
He said he does not see any "big problems" with allowing chickens and added that council could amend or eliminate the legislation if problems did arise.
Other residents said chickens would no more attract rodents than the bird feeders in town and that dog kennels are allowed, which would seem to be equally bad for manure.
Resident Lauren Sayre said she comes from five generations of farmers from Newbury Township, and she found the discussion "upsetting." She said without passage of the legislation her son could not experience raising chickens for show at the Great Geauga County Fair. She said the fair depends on those exhibitors and the fair provides considerable dollars to the village.
Although members of council and the audience said they polled residents, those informal surveys appeared to show unanimous support or opposition to the issue, depending on who was asking.
Councilman Craig Ronyak had asked that another provision be added to the legislation that would make approval subject to a chicken keeper's neighbors giving their approval.
Mr. Hicks said that provision would be problematic and "ripe for litigation." He said some neighbors may refuse to give approval because of some perceived slight years earlier by the neighbor or they may simply change their mind.
Mrs. Swaney called for a straw poll of the audience before council voted. About a dozen raised their hands in support of the legislation, while about half that many opposed it.
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