BEREA — A campaign to allow Berea residents to raise chickens on smaller lots has people clucking in this Madison County city.
Some, like Katie Startzman, want the city council to consider changing a 1918 ordinance so she and others can raise chickens for their eggs.
"It would be one little, tiny way that we would be a little more self-sufficient," Startzman said. She began a Berea Chicken Brigade Web site and used social-networking sites Facebook and Twitter to enlist support for the cause.
But some residents question whether allowing more chickens in the city is a good idea. They have concerns about pests, public health and the effect on property values.
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"Would you buy a house next door to a bunch of chickens?" Berea developer Mary Eipert asked. "I think we have a right to expect to not live next to farm animals when you buy property in the city."
The current city ordinance allows as many as 25 chickens on a 1-acre lot, and they must be kept 75 feet from a neighbor's property line. Startzman and others have asked the city to amend the ordinance so chickens would be allowed on smaller lots.
The city council has not directed its attorney to draft a new ordinance or amendment, so nothing is under formal consideration, said Dale VanWinkle, the city codes administrator.
Council member Ronnie Terrill said that he is beginning to get calls about chickens and that those calls tend to be "on the negative side."
In recent years, Ann Arbor, Mich.; Fort Collins, Colo.; Madison, Wis.; and South Portland, Maine, have voted to allow residents to raise poultry in their back yards.
Ashland, Bowling Green, Nicholasville, Richmond and several Northern Kentucky cities allow poultry to be kept under specific conditions. Back-yard chickens are allowed in Lexington as long as they have some sort of coop or protection from the elements.
Wayne Davis has six hens in his back yard on Jesselin Drive in Lexington.
Davis said there is no comparison in taste between his chickens' eggs, with their vibrant yellow yolks, and store-bought eggs, which are much paler.
Davis composts the chicken waste for use on his vegetable garden, and he said he has good relations with his neighbors.
Startzman said back-yard chickens would be a natural fit for residents who want to grow their own food and be less dependent on grocery stores.
"A healthy chicken during the spring and summer will lay almost one egg per day. So if my family can have three chickens, that would leave us with almost two dozen eggs a week," she said.
Any new ordinance would not allow roosters, so noise would not be a problem, Startzman said. Hens will lay unfertilized eggs without a rooster.
Her Web site, www.bereachickenbrigade.com, has information about egg farming, updates on the Berea campaign and humor. Graphics include "Chicks dig me" and "Chick magnet" logos.
Cheyenne Olson said 53 people attended a meeting about back-yard chickens that Sustainable Berea sponsored last year. That group encourages people to support the local economy, buy locally grown food, keep fossil fuel use to a minimum and be actively engaged as citizens.
"I know there is a lot of support for chickens," said Olson, a board member of Sustainable Berea. "I mean, you can have chickens in San Francisco and New York and Lexington."
Pests, including raccoons and opossums, can be controlled if chickens are housed properly, and most ordinances elsewhere require chickens to be penned.
Eipert, however, said her Internet research turned up stories about urban chickens attracting rats, snakes and even coyotes. Penned chickens essentially would provide "a restaurant" for those predators, she said.
Berea resident Nancie Trimm wondered who would enforce an ordinance. "Who is going to police this? That's my question," Trimm said. "I mean, that's why you live in the city, so you don't have to put up with stuff like that."
Eipert suggested there is room for compromise.
"There's got to be some kind of way that we allow people to apply for a permit and then notify in writing their neighbors," she said. "And let their neighbors come and speak and say, 'Yeah, I'm all right with it' or 'No, I'm not.' If neighbors don't want chickens, then there should be no chickens."