Chickens a threat to Aberdeen Proving Ground? City council member says they could be

Will the clucking ever stop?

Perhaps, it will soon in Aberdeen, but not before one city council member warned this week that allowing chickens to be kept within the city limits might be so harmful as to contribute to the demise of Aberdeen Proving Ground.

To think, the place that developed some of the world's most sophisticated weapons of the past 100 years – and pioneered the use of computers – might be done in by a few Plymouth rocks or Rhode Island reds.

Not only is the proving ground Harford County's largest employer, but also it has been the anchor of the county's economy for nearly a century. But to hear tell, the installation's 100 square miles could face the prospect of being egged back to the horse and buggy age.

Aberdeen Mayor Mike Bennett said Monday he wants to put an end, once and for all, to his city's great poultry debate.

Several residents have been begging the city council to allow those who live in Aberdeen to own and raise chickens, and perhaps other poultry.

Council members, meanwhile, continue to call the concept a danger to health, property values and taxpayers' pocketbooks.

Councilwoman Sandra Landbeck even warned it could mean the demise of Aberdeen Proving Ground, and advised the council to ask the Army for its view on the chicken proposition.

"I think they would like us to be good neighbors, because if there was any negative fallout, they would have to shut that base down, and that has national implications," she said.

Bennett suggested putting out a citywide survey, an idea floated earlier by the council, but wondered about how to gauge the results.

"I think we need to reach a consensus on the chickens," he said. "I believe this is an urban area, that we don't need that right now... My personal position is that I don't wish to change that at this time."

Landbeck agreed that listening to residents' opinions is a good idea, but said she still feels legalizing poultry would be expensive and dangerous to people's health.

The cost of letting people have chickens could also be high, she said.

"We need to have some kind of presentation or make information available about the fact that this is a highly regulated industry in Maryland," she said. "We are going to have to do regulations, which translates to a lot of money."

Councilwoman Ruth Ann Young agreed with that, adding she assumes residents would need permits for poultry in addition to registering with the state.

Councilwoman Ruth Elliott again said overturning city code would mean "monumental problems."

"To me, we should put it to bed and say, 'Our code says no,'" Elliott said. "I think we just keep moving this thing about the chickens on and on and on, and we don't need to do that."

"I certainly don't want to change our code any time," she also said.

Landbeck did say, however, that the city should listen to residents via a questionnaire.

"I think there's enough of a group of [interested] people that we need to not just do [this] arbitrarily, 'because I say so,'" she said.

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