By Jenna O’Donnell |
OCEANPORT – After hearing arguments for and against backyard chickens, officials decided against an amendment to existing rules that would have allowed residents to have them.
The measure failed 4-3 during an April 20 council meeting, with the Borough Council evenly split on whether to allow chickens in town. Council President Richard Gallo, and Councilwomen Patty Cooper and Ellynn Kahle voted in support, while Councilmen Joseph Irace, Stephen Solan and Robert Proto were against it. Mayor John “Jay” Coffey cast the deciding vote against the ordinance, which he said he could not support as written.
“My biggest concern is the person that doesn’t take care of their chickens,” Coffey said during a lengthy public hearing before the vote, noting that there were also some enforcement issues. “Who is going to police this?”
While borough residents packed the meeting to offer opinions on whether the ordinance should be passed, several residents who had lived near a neighbor who kept chickens argued against the measure, voicing the very problem that Coffey worried about.
“My neighbor had chickens, several chickens,” said resident Steve Marciano. “They were all hens and they made a racket, they made a racket all day long. I had people come over to my house and tell me that my yard stinks because of the chicken coop. And every house that was adjacent to that house that had chickens is here because of that. That should tell you all you need to know to vote against this ordinance.”
Backyard chicken supporters argued that keeping chickens would help Oceanport move toward being more sustainable and that many of the objections would be addressed by some of the proposed rules in the ordinance, which included a mandatory chicken-keeping class, an advisory board and a limit of six hens to a household. Shannon Scheffling, a Shrewsbury resident with family in Oceanport who started the Oceanport Backyard Chicken Supporters group on Facebook, listed some of the benefits of having backyard chickens and attempted to address some of the concerns voiced by opponents.
Chickens, when properly kept and cared for under the stipulations of the ordinance, would make little noise and cause no foul odors, Scheffling said. They can also help with pest control, composting and creating natural fertilizers that don’t pollute local water ways.
Councilwoman Kahle, who had supported the ordinance, felt that many of the complaints raised by residents who had lived near chickens in the past had to do with a lack of knowledge on how to care for chickens, which she felt the ordinance would address.
“I think it’s a shame for people who are passionate about having chickens to not be allowed because of this one instance,” she said.
Yet Oceanport’s relatively small lot sizes remained a concern for Coffey, who said allowing chickens on small lots was asking for trouble between neighbors. He also worried about the borough’s ability to enforce the ordinance with only a part-time zoning officer.
“As written, I have a problem with the ordinance,” Coffey said. “A volunteer chicken advisory board has no authority to enforce this.”
After hearing the concerns of the mayor and other residents, many chicken advocates agreed the ordinance would need to be revised and hoped another version might be reintroduced in the future.
“My impression is that you want to move on and put this issue to rest,” said resident Theresa Felzenberg, who thanked the mayor for his diligence in researching and debating the ordinance. She predicted the issue would come up again as communities and their residents looked toward more sustainable practices.
“The best ordinance is one that will get passed,” Felzenberg said. “I think this needs to perhaps be worked on a little bit more.”
This article was first published in the April 27-May 4, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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