Residents Voice Opposition to Backyard Chicken Pilot Program
Neighbors in the MIdland Boulevard/Summit Avenue expressed their strong opposition to a proposal to pilot raising chickens in backyards for eggs, saying they would attract rats and lower property values.
Turns out, not everyone in Maplewood is cuckoo for chickens.
On Tuesday night, Sept. 6, neighbors from Midland Boulevard and Summit Avenue appeared at Town Hall to voice their strong opposition to a proposal to pilot raising chickens in backyards for eggs, saying they would attract rats and lower property values.
The Township Committee was discussing a draft ordinance allowing for the one-year pilot that was planned for introduction at the Sept. 20 Township Committee meeting.
Previously, discussion about the pilot program had focused on the positive aspects of raising chickens in backyards. The program would allow for up to 15 households distributed throughout Maplewood to raise up to five chickens for egg production for a one-year period. Strict guidelines would be imposed for coops, inspections and distances of the coops from houses, property lines and neighbor's homes.
But a half dozen Midland/Summit/Richmond Avenue residents said the proposal was not all that it was cracked up to be.
Jason Hackett of Midland Boulevard brought his knowledge from raising scores of chickens on a 40-acre farm to bear. He said that the idea of raising chickens "is a good one, but you need a very large area." Hackett said that, even when he tried raising chickens in a backyard in Basking Ridge "within three weeks, we had rats."
"I love chickens, but I just can't imagine raising them in Maplewood."
Hackett talked about how chicken droppings might build up over the winter then create a slurry with spring rains that could invade neighbor's yards and gutters.
"You have to take care of where all the feces go."
Hackett said that rats are attracted by the feces and then by the grain used to feed the chickens. Several other residents in the area mentioned the fact that they are already battling a rat problem in the area — with the help of Maplewood Health Officer Robert Roe, who they all said had been very responsive.
One woman said she was unable to aggressively battle the rats: "I can't put poison in my yard. I have two dogs and a 4-year-old son."
"I'm passionate about this," she said. "We don't want more rats!"
Another neighbor said he had begun to call all the other Essex towns that allow backyard chicken raising — as listed in a Patch article. He said a number of the towns were unaware of any active chicken raising and that Belleville had actually rescinded its ordinance three months ago.
Jane Goetz of Summit Avenue said she had been selling real estate in the area for 25 years. She said that backyard chickens would make a difficult sellers' market even more challenging for residents trying to sell who had neighbors raising chickens. "I can guarantee you that they will affect property values," said Goetz. Goetz agreed with another commenter who suggested that the backyard coops only be allowed if neighbors grant permission.
Upon discussion, Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca suggested taking just that tack — amending the draft ordinance to stipulate that neighbors' permission must be obtained by those wishing to participate in the program. The suggestion gained support from Committeeman Marlon K. Brownlee and Committeeman Jerry Ryan.
But Deputy Mayor Fred Profeta strongly disagreed. Profeta felt that the issue of neighbor approval should be left open until the pilot year is over. He felt that requiring such permission for the pilot would "effectively kill this."
Profeta also lamented that many Green Team members who were experts on the topic were not present at the meeting to rebut the neighbors' assertions. "I know feces running downhill isn't an issue," said Profeta.
Vice Mayor Kathy Leventhal agreed with Profeta, using the Maplewood Community Garden as an example. "We would not have had the Community Garden if we needed permission from neighbors," said Leventhal. She noted that the program is now very successful and has expanded to multiple locations.
During discussion, Committeeman Jerry Ryan said he had been putting "a lot of thought" into the issue of backyard chickens and had come to this conclusion: "I think it's a bad idea." Ryan said that he was hearing from a lot of constituents and the comments were all negative: "People don't want it next to them."
Profeta countered, "I'm getting more comments than you are and I'm not running into negative comments."
DeLuca felt strongly that neighbors should be given "veto power," saying "neighbors ought to be able to say, 'no.'"
Profeta invited Midland Boulevard resident and chicken farmer Jason Hackett to speak with him after the meeting and share his knowledge with the Green Team. Profeta also asked that discussion of the draft ordinance be tabled until the Sept. 20 meeting and that the ordinance not be altered at this time. The four other Township Committee members agreed to this.