Chickens not permitted in city limits under new zoning changes

Terry RogersGovernment, Headlines, Milford Headline Story

Milford City Council removed a section of code that would allow up to four hens in coops within city limits, but approved ordinances related to tiny homes and pallet villages

Backyard chicken coops were the discussion at a recent Milford City Council meeting as council reviewed updates to conditional uses within city limits. One of the changes would have allowed a limited number of hens within city limits but roosters would remain prohibited. Other changes included the allowance of tiny homes, description of pallet villages and an increase in the size of subdivision signs.

“Just for clarification on the chicken coops,” Councilwoman Nirmala Samaroo said. “You have to have a permit for chickens by City of Milford and the chicken has to be registered with the Department of Agriculture? Just for clarification for the public.”

City Planner Rob Pierce explained that the Department of Agriculture did require registration of all chickens on property and that the city would require building permits for the construction of coops and runs. Councilman Todd Culotta pointed out that the ordinance would permit no more than four hens and the coop would need to provide three feet of space per chicken up to a maximum of 20 square feet. Councilwoman Samaroo also asked if she was reading correctly that a property owner could not put a six-foot privacy fence on the front of their property. Pierce stated that in a residential zone, they would permit a three-and-a-half foot fence in the front yard, but six was permitted in the rear. This was to prevent obstruction of view in the neighborhood.

“Tiny home village, let’s talk,” Councilman Andy Fulton said. “If we follow this we could never put something together like Georgetown. Eight units per acre for one. Remember Georgetown? Okay, no more than eight units per acre for one. The maximum lot coverage. Since we’re doing more than eight per acre there was more lot coverage than that. Lot width was not 40 feet or minimum on those out there in Georgetown. Lot area should be 4000 square feet, that that is way too long. Minimum front yard setback of 25 feet. I think you have a lot in there built for manufactured homes, and that’s exactly what you said you were doing. But I think in the ordinance, like for a tiny home village, we really need to rework that in order to get it so we could build something like Georgetown. That’s what the whole goal in doing this was putting the tiny home villages together was for something like that. And this doesn’t. This misses the mark.”

Councilman Jason James asked if the intent was to have tiny home be synonymous with pallet villages since he did not think they were the same thing.

“A tiny home and a pallet village is not the same thing. I was considering the pallet village would fall under a conditional use of an emergency shelter facility. And then we could provide in review that as an emergency shelter,” Councilman James said. “A tiny home village would be more like something where the people own or rent the tiny homes, almost like a manufactured home community. A tiny home is a specific structure is not a pallet house, right?”

Pierce explained that the current code required a tiny home to have kitchen and bathroom facilities while a pallet village would only require a bedroom. Most pallet villages designed for homeless had communal kitchen and bath facilities, which would then have the fall under emergency shelter ordinances.

During the public comment section of the meeting, Martha Gery of Milford Advocacy for the Homeless spoke about the zoning changes.

First of all, I continue to commend the entire committee here for the work that you’re doing to try to resolve some of the issues with affordable housing, emergency shelter, and palette homes. It’s really hard as none of this is easy. So, I want to commend you on that,” Gery said. “There is some great stuff in all of this that you’re doing here, but I do want to focus on a couple of things. For us, one of the things that that we’re looking for is, what is the solution to the homeless problem is. So, we have pallet houses, which causes some solution to those people who are displaced, right? But then you have tiny homes. That is another population. We have a number of seniors that are now displaced because they can’t afford the housing. Tiny homes would do that. And the more acreage that we don’t have to use, smaller things like there’s a place for a car and there’s a place for their home. And still put it on a solid foundation like you’re suggesting and make guidelines, whether it’s maintenance and just like you do anything else.”

Gery felt the city was on the right track but more work needed to be done.

“I think there is some work that needs to be done on what exactly is in there so that it can include all of these things. But also, when you’re talking about other solutions. So, like for us, we’re looking at nine cars, and it’s a 10 room group home if you want to call it that, you can note because it is what’s at home,” Gery said. “And when you’re looking at something like that, I want to make sure that when we’re looking at the wording it would fit something like that. Whether or not that’s the place that we get or not. It was 10 rooms. It could be temporary shelter. It could be a group homes. So, I’m asking you to look at that kind of situation. Because if we can do more of that we can help more people. And so, it takes a larger population of what you’re trying to solve.”

Some of the words used in the ordinances concerned Gery as she felt they sounded like they would cost more than the average person could afford.

“When I hear words like conditional, it sounds expensive, it sounds time consuming, and it sounds like it takes a lot of legislative type of things so that’s what it sounds like to me. I’ve told you before, I am not a politician in any way. But those are some of the words that I hear that are concerning. And so, I encourage you to go back and refine some of those things so that it can be inclusive, so we don’t have to keep going back and revisiting this and revisiting it,” Gery said. “Define what palette shelters are, defining what emergency shelter is, define what a tiny home village is. You all did an awesome thing last year and opened up the Public Works building. If we had a home and you had it already zoned to say you could do temporary emergency shelter. It’s a no brainer, right? We just open it up when it’s cold. Because we’ve already got approval for it. City council doesn’t have to do anything special. But it’s temporary. It’s emergency. So don’t really have a lot more to say. But I just wanted to thank you for your continual efforts and just encourage you to go back and refine this a little bit more.”

Councilwoman Katrina Wilson brought up the chicken coop ordinance, pointing out that she did not recall a conversation that council wanted such an ordinance.

“I’ve been approached by various residents requesting the ability to have chickens in the city and I brought it to the mayor and city manager previously and just brief discussion that I’d like to see discussed,” Councilman Culotta said. “The way this is written here, if you look at the criteria, it’s really, I think it’s very fair very, not impactful. You know, I mean, for chickens for a house maximum, you know, three square feet for storage of maximum 10 square feet for a run.”

Councilman Brian Baer felt it was a fair ordinance as long as roosters were not permitted. Councilman Culotta pointed out that those who lived in an HOA community could continue to ban chickens in their neighborhoods.

“Well, I have been in neighborhoods, my grandparent’s neighborhood, and they just sold the house and next door neighbors came in with chickens and they had them for quite a while before someone actually reported them. It wasn’t me, but it was a nuisance, and it was a smell and that was always why I chose to be in the city,” Councilwoman Wilson said. “One of the reasons. I always thought chickens and pigs and every other kind of animal belong outside of the city. I know it’s a new time when a lot of folks are wanting to do their own eggs and all that and that’s great. I’ll even buy fresh eggs, but I don’t want to if it’s my next door neighbor. I don’t want it next door to me. And I mean, I’m just speaking how I feel how I personally feel. And I’m sure if you would ask quite a few my neighbors, like other residents in Milford that’s their choice of being the city of Milford not having farm animals in the yard.”

Mayor Archie Campbell stated that he had received lots of calls about people having chickens in the city. Councilman Culotta pointed out that the new ordinance restricted how chickens could be housed, that they could not run loose in a backyard or go into a neighbor’s yard.

“I am more kind of on Katrina’s side. What it says, chicken runs and sizes, it’s good but you’re not gonna get that downside. I spent a good part of the day talking to the Department of Agriculture about bird flu, avian flu,” Councilman Mike Boyle said. “This came before the Planning Commission while I was on it, and Andy was on it, too. I don’t know the guy’s name, but he basically said we have the largest, I think it’s the largest employer in the state, Perdue. If one chicken, one chicken is reported with avian flu, everything within a 6.2 mile radius is in a quarantine zone. You can’t bring anything in. You can’t take anything out until it’s resolved by the Agriculture Department.”

Councilman Boyle continued, pointing out that Perdue did have protocols in place approved by the USDA and the Department of Agriculture.

“But to do that, they are going to stop production, bring veterinarians in, they’ve got to inspect every bird coming in. They’ve got to inspect everything going out, certify each one is free of the flu,” Councilman Boyle said. “The potential disruption to Perdue is monumental. With the idea that 6.2 miles at a starting point is 13 miles basically in diameter. It covers all of the city and, based on what we encountered last month or the month before about renegade chicken farming, I think that’s more typical to run into when people are not taking care the birds, not cleaned up after and what do you do with a waste? You don’t put it in the arteries? What do you do with it?”

Councilman Boyle stated that he had been told chicken waste could be used for fertilizer, but that it has to be diluted. It also had an odor and was messy.

“Chickens make noise, and it doesn’t make good neighbors. And the other thing, the argument about eggs doesn’t make any sense. Eggs are back down to $1 something or less. My son in law, my daughter and her husband, they live in West Virginia and they’re out in the country. He decided he’s wanted chickens all his life and they only have 10, but it cost them like $3,000 to put the damn coop together and everything else and I guess how much your eggs worth but other than that, that’s it’s the potential,” Councilman Boyle said. “You said the impact. We’re creating a long range problem now. Code enforcement would have to spend all their time running around, checking the coops and they just don’t make good neighbors like you experienced.”

Because raising chickens is not as an easy a task as people believe, Councilman Boyle felt the ordinance would create more problems than it would solve.

“Raising chickens is not an easy task. It requires a great deal of attention for care and feeding or cleaning. And what do you do with the biological waste? The potential to have a code change and move forward if we approved it, I think it’s nothing but problems down the line,” Councilman Boyle said. “Remember, the chicken industry is probably the largest industry in the state. Bargain agriculture doesn’t matter. I asked a question protecting the radius and they called me back within a minute. He had the answer. And I said, “oh so couple of chickens” and he said “no, one chicken will institute the zoning.” And we assume that everybody’s going to do the right thing and register with the state. And I don’t see that happening at all. I think it’s a danger. Not a danger so much but it’s a problem for the city we don’t need.”

At the first meeting discussing the conditional use changes, council tabled the matter, asking Pierce to bring back changes to some of the items they discussed. At the next council meeting, Pierce brought the ordinance back with changed language regarding the tiny home section.

“With regards to the tiny home village if we take a step back, I kind of broke this out a little bit further,” Pierce said. “A single tiny home would be treated like any other single family home within the zoning code if it’s constructed on a permanent foundation, so that’s not a village it’s just one single tiny home though, so those can be constructed in a different zoning classification or categories as it stands today. The additional language for tiny home village which is proposed to be added to the R3 and R8 zoning regulations would permit by right the construction of a community of tiny homes on smaller lots subject to area regulations.”

The changes to the ordinance defined a tiny home as one that was 400 square feet or less which included kitchen and bathroom facilities. Setbacks would be similar to those required by townhomes. In addition, the ordinance defined a pallet village, similar to what exists in Georgetown, as an emergency shelter. The village would be used for those who need temporary housing. The pallet village in Georgetown has a communal bath and kitchen facility while the individual homes do not.

“Last week, it was Senator Carper, Chris Coons, Lisa Blunt Rochester along with Lieutenant Governor in a meeting,” Mayor Campbell said. “Apparently, there was ARPA funding by the state and they are giving Milford funds to do a pallet city. So, we haven’t finalized anything yet, but funds will be coming from the state. There was a great meeting with every dignitary that was in the state. Mark and I are on the phone with Lieutenant Governor Bethany Hall. And she’s assuring us that we’re going to get the ARPA funds from the state for a pallet city, and Milford will be the next in the state.”

Councilman Culotta still felt the setback on tiny homes was larger than it needed to be. He felt a five foot setback, which would be 10 feet between the tiny homes, was sufficient. City Engineer James Puddicombe explained that there are fire codes that require a certain setback between homes.

“The code amendment has a section for group homes and what’s here in the code, or the amendment, group homes would be a conditional use,” City Solicitor David Rutt said. “The governor, within the last couple of weeks, signed the bill that defines the group homes, and it specifically says that the zoning ordinances in any county or municipality that are in conflict with that are overridden, essentially preemption, and that group homes have to be considered as a permitted use not as a conditional use. Permitted means we have to let it happen.”

Pierce stated that until this legislation, municipalities could not regulate group homes for those who were differently abled, but this legislation specifically mentioned certified recovery homes.

“I can remember when a group home was put on Church Street Extension when these units were built. It was not built to be a group home and it happens to be right behind my house and our yards are adjacent. And I wasn’t happy about that,” Councilwoman Wilson said. “Just because we weren’t aware that it was going to be a group home it was built as duplex. And after that People’s Place, he made an agreement with the developer turning it into a group home and we weren’t even completely aware of what was going on. So whatever kind of control that we should have, we need it because whether it’s permitted or not, the residents should be aware of what’s going on there. And a lot of my neighbors weren’t happy with that. You know, 20 years later, we’ve lived with it. And you do have to live and make adjustments because there is lots of activities there as police chief might know and, and definitely the officers. It’s a weekly call, the police department is  there and the noise that goes on there. It makes a difference.”

Solicitor Rutt explained that the legislation specifically states that a certified recovery home must be treated the same as a single family dwelling. Mayor Campbell pointed out that municipalities were fighting it to which Solicitor Rutt replied that they lost the lawsuit.

Council approved the conditional use changes but eliminated the section allowing chickens within city limits unanimously.















Share this Post