Well into first half of the last century, Bel Air was still the commercial hub for a thriving farming community, and town officials may be on the verge of revisiting part of that rural heritage.
At the most recent town meeting, resident Arlo Glover asked members of the Board of Town Commissioners to repeal part of a 35-year-old ordinance that appears to prohibit raising and selling poultry or other fowl inside the town limits.
If the law isn't changed, Glover said he fears he will have to get rid of the 10 laying hens he keeps in a coop behind his home on Spindle Hill Court on the far southwest side of town.
The hens have been around three years, but Glover said he recently received a visit from a zoning enforcement officer, following an apparent complaint, as acknowledged by Planning and Zoning Director Kevin Small.
Glover said his five boys, ages 2 to 17, participate in 4-H and take care of the hens, and it's an opportunity for the family "to have a little quality food and to learn where things come from."
At the Feb. 17 town meeting, he presented the commissioners with ordinances from other places that permit backyard poultry, including Baltimore and New York City.
"I'm asking you to consider changing the law to permits hens, no roosters or geese or other nuisance fowl," he said.
Chapter 134, Section 1 of the Bel Air Town Code states:
"No owner, lessee or tenant shall erect or maintain any building, coop or pen upon any property in the Town within 200 feet of the property of adjoining owners of property in the Town for the purpose of raising, fattening, maintaining or selling any poultry or the eggs produced therefrom.
"No owner, lessee or tenant of any property in the Town shall have on his premises any poultry for sale or for any other commercial purpose whatsoever within 200 feet of the property of adjoining owners of property in the Town."
Although the commissioners listened attentively, they didn't have much to say, although several stopped to chat with Glover after the meeting was adjourned, as did Small and Town Attorney Charles Keenan, who said they both remembered their families having chickens when they were young.
"I know my grandparents had them," Keenan, who grew up in Bel Air, said. Small said he grew up in a Midwestern city and his family definitely had some backyard chickens.
Small said he suspects there are a few other people keeping chickens in town in contravention of the law.
He also said he was not aware that the Mill of Bel Air on North Main Street sells chicks and ducklings every spring.
A poster on The Mill's front door Wednesday noted that chicks would begin arriving at the locally-owned farm and garden supply chain's various stores on March 1 and that seminars for those interested in raising chickens are planned at locations in Harford, Baltimore and York counties.
Glover said he was aware that Aberdeen city officials nixed similar requests last year, provoking a controversy that took several months to die down.
"As a municipality, they have that right," he added.
But Glover, who said his home is in the town limits by only few feet, also said he believes the town officials will do the right thing.
Meanwhile, Small said enforcement of the ordinance is "on hold" while town officials study Glover's request and no action is being taken to make him get rid of the hens.
On Thursday, the planning director said he has been looking at what other jurisdictions have done with chickens and requested information from the Maryland Municipal League.
"I'm still working on it, and I want to follow up with Mr. Glover on a few things and visit so I can understand what it is he is doing on his property."
Small noted that the law doesn't ban chickens from town completely, but the 200-foot setback requirement means a property would have to be at least 400 feet by 400 feet "which eliminates 95 percent of the properties in town."
"For all intents and purposes you probably wouldn't be able to have them," Small said, adding that he also needs to look at the requirements of Glover's homeowners association. "Mr. Glover says they are allowed, but if the association doesn't permit them, there is nothing the town could do, anyway."
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"Once I get everything together, I'll go over what I've found with the commissioners at a work session and see what they want to do next," he added.