Byram continues to wrangle with chicken ordinance

Byram. The township council agreed to table, tweak, and take up the ordinance again in September.

Byram /
28 Jul 2020 | 06:56

The Byram chicken ordinance is getting kicked down the road.

The township council unanimously agreed on July 21 to table the proposed ordinance, which would allow homeowners to keep small backyard flocks. The council also agreed to review an improved ordinance in September.

Councilman Harvey Roseff said chicken coops should be 100 to 150 feet away from a lake or a neighbor’s property line, instead of the 40 feet in the proposed ordinance. The township must do whatever it can to prevent neighbor conflicts, he said, and first hear from the zoning officer, who will have to enforce the ordinance.

Mayor Alexander Rubenstein said setbacks of hundreds of feet will automatically eliminate about 75 percent of households from keeping chickens.

Councilman Jack Gallagher recommended an application process, a vaccine requirement, and verification that the chickens do not have diseases. He suggested checking the chickens once a year.

How much government do residents need?

During the public comment session, three residents spoke in favor of the proposed ordinance and four spoke against it.

Supporters said an application process would be a waste of township personnel’s time. They said fenced-in chickens are protected from predators and prevented from spreading disease. The township needs to trust people to do the right thing, they said, and allow them to provide for their families. “We need less government,” one said.

Scott Olson said it’s all about trust. “There is such a distrust and anger toward things being changed,” he said. If there is a problem, he said, there should be a way to file a complaint, or grant a permit that can be revoked. He said people shouldn’t be denied based on the “what ifs.”

Shannon Mahoney, who has kept chickens on her property and circulated a petition in favor of an ordinance, she said she wished her neighbors had come to her directly with their odor complaint. In that case, she said, she would have addressed the problem. She also suggested the smell might have come from a septic problem next door to her house.

How much space do chickens need?

Harry Justin Williams said he was in favor of chickens but against the ordinance. No one wants to have an awkward conversation with a neighbor, he said, which is why a complaint arrived on the desk of the township zoning officer. He said the Mahoneys did a great job cleaning everything up.

Williams said the setbacks and acreage requirements in the proposed ordinance were inadequate, an that some activities just require more land. He supports a permitting process, a site plan review, a nominal permit fee, and possibly a notice to neighbors.

Others said a quarter acre is too small for keeping backyard chickens and reiterated concerns about rats, predators, odor, and flies. Some recommended a two-acre requirement, and that any resident with fewer than five acres go through the zoning process. If getting a variance is onerous, the council should fix it, they said. Also, they said, the zoning officer is not available on weekends or nights, and no one wants to call the police on a neighbor.

Others said the ordinance should require five acres, similar to ordinances in Andover and Stanhope, and proof of chicken purchase from a New Jersey-certified breeder. People who break rules and regulations do not create trust, they said.

A good start

Councilman Raymond Bonker said that, from a philosophical standpoint, backyard chickens should be permitted. A easy process should be set up, he said, not a full variance process. He did not want to impose annual chicken checks on the manager or staff.

Councilwoman Cris Franco said a one-time online application would give residents guidelines. She said she was on the side of making something work for people who wanted to keep chickens.

Rubenstein said the proposed ordinance was a good start. He said he favors moving forward while tweaking the details. “Let’s get it done,” he said.

In other business, the council unanimously approved an ordinance authorizing a bridge easement to Sussex County for County Bridge C-09, located on North Shore Road.