CECIL COUNTY — Cecil County residents called for a change in law to allow for chickens on properties smaller than one acre during Tuesday’s County Council legislative session.
North East resident Heather Lyons’ petition to encourage Cecil County to change the law – which requires residents have at least one acre of land in order to own chickens – gained 167 signatures as of press time. Lyons said she got chickens during the pandemic at the urging of her children.
“We thought: you don’t have school, you can’t play with your friends, let’s do it,” Lyons said. “So we got chickens. We now have the six hens and we have a nice coop. My kids now clean the coop out, they take responsibility.”
Lyons said chickens are quieter than many neighborhood dogs and do not require the space of other animals. Lyons said she received a letter from the county saying she cannot legally have chickens on her property.
“Chickens do not need an acre. A pig, a cow, a horse, they need an acre, but a chicken does not,” Lyons said.
Barb Cox, the president of the Whitaker Woods Homeowners’ Association, presented a letter in support of allowing people to have chickens on smaller plots of land. Cox said chickens help control bug populations and that residents of her area have not complained about chickens. Cox has owned chickens for six years on over an acre of land.
“I’ve never had a complaint about the chickens,” Cox said. “Dogs I get complaints about all the time.”
North East resident Maria Gamble-Farkas said many counties in Maryland and Baltimore City are much more lenient than Cecil County when it comes to chicken ownership. In Baltimore City, residents may keep up to 4 hens on lots that are under 2,000 square feet, which is around 1/25th of an acre.
“Chickens are about the easiest pet to care for which allows even young children to care for them and take that ownership of having a pet,” Gamble-Farkas said.
Elkton resident Joe McDevitt expressed his support for the zoning change, and said he originally got chickens for his children and wife.
“It started as a novelty for my kids and something to relieve my wife’s stress, since she’s a wound and infectious disease nurse at the hospital,” McDevitt said.
McDevitt said he has a fenced-in yard and pen for his family’s chickens.
“The kids: they play with them, they get the eggs, it teaches them responsibility,” McDevitt said.
In a work session before the council meeting, council member Jackie Gregory brought up the issue of backyard chickens.
“My gut feeling is that a small amount of chickens on an individual’s property enables them to become more self-sufficient,” Gregory said. “As long as we do it in an intelligent way that does not impede on neighbors rights, I’m definitely open to looking at it more closely.”
Council president Bob Meffley pointed out that many people might live on close to an acre of land but would not be allowed to have chickens under the current regulations. Gregory pointed to how many counties in Maryland have laws allowing for a small number of hens, but no roosters, on relatively small properties.
“Right now, just driving through the county, I think there’s a lot of people that have them that don’t necessarily have an acre,” Gregory, referring to chickens, said. “At least if we put some guidelines in place, they would have to follow some procedures rather than just letting them wander into their neighbor’s yard or into the road.”
Cecil County Planning and Zoning Chief Stephen O’Connor said complaints about chickens typically occur when there is a rooster present.
“People have property rights and that’s the struggle with this issue, is how do you make it fair for the chicken grower as well for the ones who live near them,” County manager James Massey said.
Around 10 years ago, the county dealt with ordinances around owning animals when the Balunsat family in Chesapeake City was ordered to get rid of their goat “Snowbird,” because the goat violated restrictions on animal husbandry.
“Look at the bright side: they don’t bark,” Meffley said. “I get a lot of complaints from people about barking dogs. It’s really something to consider, I think the council will think about it and at our next work session let’s see if we come up with something.”
The next council work session is scheduled for Sept. 14 at 4:30 p.m.