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Aberdeen officials aren't ready to decide next move in chicken controversy

Suggestion about taking a survey might open can of worms, mayor and council members say

BY BRYNA ZUMER, bzumer@theaegis.com

11:05 PM EDT, April 22, 2014

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Aberdeen may indeed be the "home of opportunity," as one city slogan goes. It's also been named an All-America City and has been home to some of the most important technological advances of the past 90 years.

But the city's roots are in agriculture and, like it or not, city officials have a fowl problem on their hands that won't go away.

At their work session at City Hall Monday, Mayor Mike Bennett and city council members agreed to put off once again taking any action on several requests from residents who want to own and raise chickens in the city.

Council members discussed putting out a survey to residents on the topic, but Bennett and several others had reservations.

"If we put this out on a survey to the community and we get 50 citizens that say they want this, are we OK going forward with doing this for a city of 50,000?" he wondered out loud. "Do we set limits for how many people need to respond? There's just a whole lot of questions of how we need to move forward with this."

City Manager Doug Miller suggested delaying any action, because the council's docket is already fairly full in the near future with they annual budget review drawing near.

The issue has been festering for more than two years after the city forced a resident to give up his chickens by changing the law on keeping animals within the city limits.

Last month, the ex-chicken owner, Frank Turner of Chesapeake Court, presented the city council with a petition signed by him and 24 neighbors, requesting that the law be changed back. One of Turner's talking points: Someone else was keeping ducks in town and when there was a complaint, the city let the ducks stay.

Councilwoman Ruth Ann Young and Councilwoman Ruth Elliott said taking a survey might be opening a can of worms they do not want opened.

Young said her discomfort with this issue comes from experience.

"As a kid, I grew up in the country. We had all different kinds of farm animals, one of which [was] chickens. I'm very familiar with them; I'm very familiar with their habits," she said.

"I realize that for some people this would be their pride and joy, but I had the experience of being on the other side of things and I think we're opening a Pandora's box of things that we don't need to open," she said.

Elliott agreed, saying: "I believe we'd be opening up a whole new kettle of worms with this. There's just too many ifs, ands and buts."

Bennett, however, said he thinks the city could better define its rules on poultry.

"I think there needs to be more definition. It's like a one-liner that covers the city and I'm not sure that's enough because there was this noise about ducks," he said. "As far as I can read, the regulation doesn't say a thing about ducks...it's kind of hard to read in one line when it definitely says 'poultry.'"