Beware of unintended consequences in easing chicken rules [Editorial]

Backyard chickens are trendy. Once, the opposite was true. In a movie, any scene showing hens squawking in a yard was a clear signifier that it wasn't an upscale neighborhood.

Now, we learn that Williams-Sonoma, the high-end culinary retailer, is marketing a $1,500 chicken coop ($150 for delivery) that is "hand built in Washington state from western red cedar custom-milled by a local, family-run saw mill." It includes a planter box for growing herbs. This is a poultry house with prestige.

This change in public attitude has apparently not been lost on the Baltimore County Council. Some members report being asked by constituents if the county's restrictions on backyard chickens can be eased. As a result, a council resolution under consideration calls for a review of chicken regulations by county planners.

"There seems to be a growing movement of people that are really into fresh eggs and healthy, organic foods," said Council Chairman Tom Quirk, who sponsored the resolution.

At present, a county resident needs an acre or more of property to be permitted to raise chickens. Backyard chicken coop advocates would like to see that acreage requirement reduced.

Currently, the county has 93 flocks registered.

The obvious issue here is whether those living next to these poultry proponents will share in their neighbors' enthusiasm. We suspect not all will.

What will be the effect on property values when a yard next door is a cluckfest? When it comes time for one of these birds to go into a pot, where is the messy prep business to be conducted?

What happens if a chicken aficionado's doting attention to his feathered friends turns to bored neglect? Is this more work for animal control officials?

And what about "cock-a-doodle-do!" at 4 a.m.

Regulating all this looks like a nightmare.

And, a larger issue remains. As much as coop-keepers consider their birds a kind of pet, it is nevertheless an agricultural activity normally conducted by farmers who raise chickens with professional — not aesthetic — purpose. County planners should consider the wisdom of widening an agricultural use within suburban zones.

We think a high risk for unintended consequences would result from changing the backyard chicken rules. They should be left as is.

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