Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Frostbitten chickens, flaming coops amid concerns as Rockville backyard chickens measure is debated

The refinement of legislation that would allow backyard chickens in Rockville led the Mayor and Council through a discussion lasting over two hours Monday night. Many practical details that had not been previously considered came up, including the potential for chickens to get frostbite if future winters resemble the past one. Councilmember Julie Palakovich-Carr, who has led the effort to update the city's code regarding animals and pets, said that a properly-sized coop will utilize the body heat of chickens to protect them from winter temperatures.

Councilmember Beryl Feinberg expressed concern that heating systems could lead to fires. She cited events in other jurisdictions, where such coop fires had caused as much as $500,000 damage to homes they were in the backyards of. Feinberg felt there should be a special exception process to give neighbors a say in whether such chicken operations could be allowed next door to them. Councilmember Tom Moore strongly objected to that potential amendment, saying a resident's decision to have chickens would be no different than his ability to construct a by-right garage on his property.

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton eventually had to postpone the debate to a future meeting, citing the late hour. Newton said the questions of neighbor notification or special exceptions, among others, were significant enough to merit further discussion. The meeting adjourned at 11:55 PM.

One interesting issue that emerged during the debate was the potential for individual HOAs to ban chickens, if enough residents opposed them, even if the provision passes.

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