Mayor Vic DeLuca appears to the the swing vote in the battle of backyard chickens, which looks to come to its conclusion on October 18.
DeLuca cast the deciding vote to introduce the ordinance that would permit a pilot program to allow up to 15 Maplewood households to raise as many as 3 hens for egg production for a one-year period.
Deputy Mayor Fred Profeta and Vice Mayor Kathleen Leventhal gave detailed reasons for supporting the measure; Committeemen Marlon K. Brownlee and Jerry Ryan gave equally definitive reasons for why they are opposed to the pilot program. DeLuca made no comments for or against, simply voting "yes" to introduce the ordinance.
DeLuca was one of the few in the room who did not state an opinion on raising chickens in Maplewood. A number of residents once again appeared at the meeting to voice their opposition or support — with more residents in opposition.
Steven Weber began public comments by saying he felt that the proposal had been refined to reflect residents' concerns and was now "a well-conceived proposal for a highly regulated pilot."
Reesa Salomon of the Green Team was likewise in support: "I believe the Township Committee made the proper changes to the ordinance."
Ruth Ross noted that she loved living on a chicken farm as a girl in Toms River. She felt that "some of these concerns are just not efficient, productive, appropriate as to what chickens are about." In particular, Ross said that concerns of odors from three chickens was "ill-founded and unwarranted."
On the opposing side, several residents made comments.
Marli Craig presented 145 signatures against the ordinance.
Catherine Racette added research that she had performed, citing a 2009 New York Times article titled "When the Problems Come Home to Roost." The story, said Racette, documented the downside of the backyard chicken trend in the Bay Area in California, replete with "diseases with odd names" and unwanted chickens being abandoned to animal shelters. Racette also said that the group Farm Sanctuary raised many concerns about "hobbyists" raising chickens. "They are very much against this," said Racette.
Earlier, Planning Board Chair Tom Carlson had noted what he felt were technical issues with the ordinance. Carlson said that he felt that the ordinance should include criteria for evaluating the success or failure of the pilot. Carlson said that the ordinance also did not specify single-family homes. In addition, he noted that, although the ordinance used the term "backyard" to describe the chickens, it did not specifically restrict chickens to the backyard and that chickens could conceivably be kept in sideyards per the ordinance (although the ordinance did specify that chickens must be kept behind the front setback).
No one speaking at the meeting said that he or she would raise chickens.
Deputy Mayor Profeta cautioned against "losing the forest for the trees."
"The local food movement is well documented," said Profeta, citing healthier food and farming that is good for the environment. "But another enormous factor is the realities of what the industrial egg production industry is." Profeta then, invoking Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma, described chickens that are given feed produced through heavy fertilization and kept immobile in cages with their beaks cut off so as not to peck other birds. He mentioned heavy dosing of the chickens with antibiotics and the use of arsenic.
"I think it's imperative in this country that we provide an alternative," said Profeta.