By Tony E. Windsor

Laurel officials approved a language change in an amendment that prohibits town residents from keeping chickens, primarily laying hens, within corporate limits. Chapter 49, Article III of the Laurel Town Code addresses “dangerous animals” being prohibited in the town.

Earlier this year, the council voted to prohibit chickens from being kept in the town, after a resident requested to be allowed to raise laying hens for personal use of the eggs. At that time, Council President Chris Calio questioned why chickens would be listed under town codes controlling “dangerous” animals within town limits.

During the Dec. 20 meeting of Laurel Mayor and Council, a first reading of an amendment to Chapter 49, Article III, replacing the language addressing “dangerous” animals with “prohibited” animals to better represent the prohibition of animals including “game cocks, other fighting birds and fowl, including, but not limited to poultry, such as chickens, turkeys and game birds such as pheasants and partridges, and waterfowl such as ducks or geese.”

The amendment passed the first reading with Calio casting the single opposing vote. Councilmembers Donald Holden and Jonathon Kellam abstained from the vote and Councilwoman Robin Fisher-Cornish was absent.

The amendment will be brought back for a second and final reading during a January council meeting, after which it will be formally adopted, if it passes.

Back in August, a Laurel woman reached out to town officials in an effort to gain support for making a code revision that would allow her to continue raising her chickens for their eggs. Cheri Clark appeared before the Council on Aug. 16, to urge the body to consider reclassifying chickens as “permitted domestic animals,” and not include them in a list of “dangerous animals.”

Town Manager Jamie Smith worked with Laurel Code Enforcement and the town’s attorney to draft “Ordinance 2021-5,” which would amend Chapter 168 of the town code pertaining to animals kept within town limits. The amendment would add “urban chickens” to the list of permissible animals.

According to language of the amendment, “The purpose of this article is to provide standards for the keeping of domesticated chickens. It is intended to enable residents to keep a small number of chickens while limiting the “potential adverse impacts on the surrounding neighborhood.”

The language went on to stipulate that the town considers it a priority to fend against potential “adverse neighborhood impact” and designed the proposed ordinance amendment to prevent this result.

 “Impact may result from the keeping of domesticated chickens due to noise, odor, unsanitary animal living conditions, unsanitary waste storage and removal, the attraction of predators, rodents, insects, or parasites, and unconfined animals leaving the owner’s property,” the proposal stipulated. “This article is intended to create standards and requirements that ensure that domesticated chickens do not adversely impact the neighborhood surrounding the property on which the chickens are kept.”

During the Monday, Nov. 15 meeting of Laurel Mayor and Council, the amendment was brought before the council for a vote and died for lack of a majority decision. The vote was three “for” and three “against” the measure.

Early on Mayor John Shwed and Councilwoman Cheryl Martin expressed opposition to having an ordinance that would allow chickens to be kept by residents in the town. Martin said she felt chickens would detract from the town’s appeal for new businesses and residents.

Former Councilwoman Ann “Snickie” Davis attended the November meeting and asked whether the town had ordinances that deal with a resident who may be breeding Pit Bull dogs in their home. When told that the council was not aware of an ordinance pertaining specifically to dog breeding, she expressed concern. 

“You can breed Pit Bulls in your home, but you can’t have chickens? I don’t get it,” she said.