Some Balto. Co. Council members worried about backyard chickens

After a rough day, holding a single brown egg laid by a pet hen brought a simple sense of joy to Baltimore County resident Lawrence Parr. And the sight of kids playing with "peeps" — "that's worth a million dollars," Parr told the County Council last week.

Parr and other supporters of backyard chickens are urging council members to approve a resolution that could lead to more residents being allowed to keep chickens. The proposal would ask the planning board to review regulations on the birds and other animals. Interest in raising chickens has grown nationwide, with many local governments loosening rules.

But some council members say they're worried that more backyard chickens could harm public health or lead to neighborhood disputes.

"In this county, we have responsible citizens and citizens that are not so responsible," said Councilman John Olszewski Sr., who added after a work session on the bill that he's is concerned unkempt chicken coops could spark neighborhood disputes, especially in rowhouse communities, and strain the code enforcement department.

Under current regulations, county residents may only keep chickens if their property is an acre or larger. Supporters want the county to loosen that standard so more people could keep them.

A vote on the resolution is scheduled for Tuesday.

All residents who spoke at last week's meeting were in favor of the resolution, pointing to health and environmental benefits. Raising chickens also can foster community togetherness, supporters said, bringing neighbors together to share eggs.

Resident Emma Reisinger suggested several ideas for the county consider to alleviate concerns. It could limit the number of chickens a person can keep and require people keeping chickens to maintain a certain distance between their birds and neighbors' property. It also could limit roosters, she said.

Some council members plan to propose amendments to the resolution. Citing public health concerns, Councilman Kenneth Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat, said he wants the Health Department to participate in the review of regulations.

Councilman Todd Huff, a Lutherville Republican, has proposed limiting the review to only chickens, not other farm animals. Huff, whose district includes farms in the northern part of the county, said it is not necessary to review all regulations related to all livestock.

Residents also pointed to the educational potential of raising chickens, saying many people lack understanding of how their food is raised.

One time, Parr said, a neighbor asked how a chicken could lay eggs without a rooster.

"People are so disconnected from reality," he said.

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