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Aberdeen City Council introduces legislation to allow chicken ownership in city

The Aberdeen City Council introduced legislation that would allow city residents to keep chickens at their homes, against the recommendation of the city’s planning commission.

The ordinance would allow for residents to own a select number of hens within city limits — which has been prohibited since the 1950s — if passed. The bill was narrowly introduced by a 3-2 vote at the council’s Monday meeting. Mayor Patrick McGrady and council members Jason Kolligs and Sandra Landbeck voted for the ordinance’s passage while councilmen Adam Hiob and Tim Lindecamp voted against it.

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The ordinance’s next step will be a public hearing, where proponents and opponents of the legislation can make cases for and against it, though plenty turned out at city hall to voice their opinions on chicken ownership during the meeting’s opportunity for public comment.

Chairperson of Aberdeen’s planning commission Mark Schlottman spoke against the ordinance. The issue lies in how the city is perceived, he said. After rising from an agrarian community to a suburb, inviting farm animals back within city limits, he reasoned, would be regressive and unwelcome for those who do not wish to own poultry or live near them.

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“They have done a very good job in changing the perception of the city,” he said of past and current city leaders and workers. “We felt that to allow this would be to take a step backward.”

The planning commission, Schlottman said, met June 10 to debate allowing the ownership of chickens and voted against it by a 6-1 margin. The planning commission is advisory and does not have the power to change the city’s code. It makes recommendations to the city council, which has ultimate authority to vote on the issue. Schlottman ferried those recommendations to the council Monday.

Beyond the optics of permitting poultry within city limits, Schlottman said that chickens can carry diseases — like avian flu, E. coli and salmonella — and make noise, which is undesirable for neighbors. Supporters of the ordinance are in the minority, he said, and the code should not be changed to accommodate them.

“This is a very small group,” he said. “To legislate for a very small group of people is bad legislation.”

Before the vote, Hiob said he would not vote for the ordinance for many of the same reasons Schlottman described. When asked in late April, Hiob said his support for the legislation was contingent on what appeared in the final draft of the ordinance.

Multiple people spoke in support of chicken ownership. Patricia Felts, who is an active member of a group of pro-poultry Aberdeen residents, said cities like Baltimore and New York allow chickens within their limits, subject to some permitting restrictions. She also disputed Schlottman’s claim that chickens spread disease. Felts claimed that chickens would also be valuable for their eggs and companionship.

“Why should you tell me that I can not have a chicken for my own eggs,” she said. “It is like, how dare you?”

Felts also pointed out that proponents of the legislation are not asking for a large number of chickens and aim to own flocks of 20 or fewer hens.

“What we’re asking for is not a Perdue-type operation,” she said. “Chickens makes less noise than a dog; I have provided the decibels to the council before.”

Schlottman pointed out that eggs are cheap. Hiob concurred, and noted that buying eggs supports local farmers and businesses. A question of permitting arises, Hiob said, in constructing coops for the chickens. If a coop is too tall, it may need to be permitted by the city, he speculated, which would complicate the matter.

Other jurisdictions like Howard and Montgomery counties — the later of which prohibits roosters and regulates the placement of chicken coops — allow the birds. Harford County, too, allows poultry to be kept on property a minimum of 2 acres in size, regardless of its zoning classification.

Councilman Jason Kolligs, who sponsored the ordinance, said he was heartened to see the turnout at the council meeting. In late April, he said he supported the legislation to allow hens because he viewed it as an issue of personal liberty and relieving unnecessary constraint on property owners.

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“Legislation that relieves oppression from any size group is good legislation,” Kolligs said after the vote.

The council customarily hosts public hearings on legislation the meeting after they are first introduced, McGrady said. Votes are taken the meeting after the public hearing to give the discussed legislation time to percolate in the community. The council’s next meeting is set for July 13.

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