Haddon Twp. considers allowing backyard chickens

Gwenne Baile is "the mother hen" of the campaign for chickens in Haddon Twp. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Gwenne Baile is "the mother hen" of the campaign for chickens in Haddon Twp. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Posted: April 04, 2014

HADDON TWP. In Gwenne Baile's dreams, Sunrise, Dawn, and Goldie - three tawny, handsome hens of the Buff Orpington breed - take up residence in her backyard.

"Backyard chickens are healthier," she says. "They get good food. They get fresh air. They're loved."

Baile, 65, is a retired nurse-midwife. She calls herself "the mother hen" of a campaign to let Haddon Township residents keep up to six chickens (but no roosters) for noncommercial purposes.

The bucolic beauty and insect-eating, egg-laying proclivities of pet chickens will help Haddon Township be "a sustainable community, a greener town," she says.

On Thursday, the township planning and zoning board is scheduled to receive a subcomittee's report on the "chicken initiative" resulting from several years of research by Baile and other advocates.

The subcommittee report does not recommend for or against backyard chickens. Instead, it examines the land-use ramifications of altering a 2006 township ordinance that prohibits residents from keeping fowl.

"It's up to the township commission," Mayor Randy Teague says. "It would be a significant change that could have a potentially significant impact."

The mere notion of chickens clucking, pecking, laying eggs - and, yes, pooping - in backyard enclosures already is having an impact in Haddon Township, a densely populated Camden County suburb of about 14,700, much of which is also known as Westmont.

Letters to the editor have flown back and forth in the Retrospect weekly newspaper. A petition against the chicken initiative has been circulating, while Baile's "Give Peeps a Chance" page on Facebook has attracted 61 members.

Boosters see raising chickens as a family-friendly, community-building activity, while foes worry about property values and friction among neighbors.

But the growing appeal of fresh, locally sourced food is feeding interest in home "henneries" nationwide and in South Jersey towns such as Audubon and Deptford.

Backyardchickens.com - a website akin to a glossy lifestyle magazine - displays images of adorable chicks and appetizing eggs.

Even the chicken's traditionally humble home has gone glam: Williams-Sonoma offers a "Cedar Chicken Coop With Planter . . . hand-built in Washington state" for $1,449.95. Plus shipping.

Nevertheless, allowing chickens "is a bad idea," says Tom Praiss, an accountant who lives in Westmont.

"This is not a farming community," Praiss, 68, says. "I don't care what anybody says, with chickens, there's going to be a smell problem. And you're not going to get as much for your house if you've got a chicken coop next door."

In much of Haddon Township, "next door" means close by: Nearly 90 percent of all residential parcels are less than a quarter-acre in size.

"The properties here, mine included, are on small lots," notes Westmont resident Shirley Lugowe, 63, a legal secretary. "If your neighbor has chickens, that's something you're going to smell, and hear.

"I'm an animal person," says Lugowe. "But chickens are not something that belong in an urban, built-up area like this."

Baile says enforcement of existing animal control and property maintenance regulations should mitigate those concerns.

"We don't want to step on anyone's toes," says Suzanne Ficara, 64, of Westmont. "We're conscious of people's fears."

Which I see as genuine, but overblown. Same goes for the benefits.

Perhaps it's time to have a one-year pilot program to determine if chickens and humans really can be good neighbors in Haddon Township.

It's worth a try.


kriordan@phillynews.com

856-779-3845 @inqkriordan

www.inquirer.com/blinq

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