Town aims to curtail fowl deeds

KEARNY

The chickens have come home to roost.

Spurred on by the clucking of henpecked neighbors, the Town of Kearny has drafted a new law to regulate the “raising and maintenance of chickens” by its residents.

The measure will come up for public debate and possible adoption at the next mayor/Town Council meeting on Dec. 5, beginning at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at Town Hall, 402 Kearny Ave.

Councilwoman Susan McCurrie, who chairs the ordinance committee, credited some townspeople with “having gotten on board with green sustainability” by devoting time and labor into projects like community gardens.

But then, she said, there are some residents who’ve taken to “raising chickens in their backyards and we have no regulations” to deal with those enterprises that “are resulting in nuisance complaints.”

So, after weeks of researching the issue, McCurrie said the ordinance committee came up with a proposed law – “our attempt to create some restrictions and a code for doing it but, at the same time, not barring” poultry-related activities, so long as they’re not “creating a nuisance.”

Just how prevalent have these chicken “farms” become in Kearny?

Mayor Alberto Santos said he’s been made aware of at least “a couple” active ones and Council President Carol Jean Doyle added that she and her Third Ward colleague Eileen Eckel “know of one case [in the Manor section] with 20 chickens and it’s a nuisance all right.”

Santos went on to say he’s also cognizant of another instance where a resident “has a chicken as a pet” which could present an enforcement dilemma because the ordinance would not permit chickens to “free roam or free range outside of the coop or structure.”

At any rate, here is how the ordinance proposes to rule the roost:

• No roosters are allowed; only female chickens are covered.

• No “slaughtering, plucking and/or processing of chickens for human consumption.”

• No resident can “sell eggs to the public.” Eggs would be limited to “personal consumption,” McCurrie said.

• “No more than four chickens may be kept in the yard of a single-family house or two-family dwelling….” No chickens may be kept inside a house or multi-family dwelling.

The ordinance is very detailed about how chickens are to be housed, as evidenced by the following provisions:

• They must be “confined in a suitable structure or coop” that must be located in a resident’s rear yard, “no closer than 10 feet to a property line” and no closer than 30 feet to an adjoining residential or commercial building.

• The structure or coop “shall not exceed 60 square feet,” can be no taller than 6 feet, its roof cannot be covered by a tarp, the coop and “enclosed run” must be “predator-proof” and must be surrounded by a 6-foot-high fence.

• A wire porch attached to the coop/structure in which chickens are to be kept is permitted so long as that porch is one foot above the ground and consist of “one-inch mesh hardware cloth for the floor with any convenient size wire for the sides and top and shall not extend more than 4 feet” from the coop/structure.

• The coop/structure “shall be dry and well-ventilated, with windows so placed, if possible, as to admit sunlight” and its floor must be “made of wire, slatted wood or similar materials, designed to allow animal waste to pass through and be collected in trays or impervious material underneath to allow for frequent disposal.”

•  All chicken droppings must be removed “at least once a week” and properly disposed of, “so as not to breed flies or create a nuisance.” The yard containing the coop/structure “shall be clean, free from odors and dust abatement techniques must be utilized.” Runoff waste onto adjacent properties is forbidden.

• All food for “immediate consumption” must be placed in “suitable feeding troughs or similar containers” and all other food “shall be stored in animal-proof containers at all times.”

• Drinking fountains in the area “shall be kept clean and supplied at all times with clean water.”

A chicken-keeper must pay an annual $50 license fee. A license application must be filed yearly with the local Board of Health listing name and signature of the property owner, number of chickens to be kept, a “detailed sketch” of the coop/structure and documentation showing the location has been reviewed and approved by the town Construction Code official. The applicant must secure “any required building permit” from that office and/or zoning authorization before building the coop.

This code is to be enforced by employees of the Kearny Health Department, Police Department and Construction Office. Violators are subject to license revocation by order of the Municipal Court and a fine of up to $500 or a maximum of 90 days of community service for each day of the violation.

Upon notification that a public nuisance exists, the owner of the coop/structure has “not less than five days” to “remove or abate” the condition unless there is declared to be “an imminent public health hazard.”

The initial draft of the ordinance gave the Health Department the discretion to waive the rule on maximum number of permitted chickens to any residents currently maintaining chickens provided it does not constitute a nuisance but after the mayor opposed “permanent grandfathering,” the wording was changed to give existing chicken-maintainers a “90-day compliance period” to conform to that section of the law.

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.