Tuesday, April 10, 2012


About a year ago, I attended my first meeting of the Environmental Stewardship Committee where the topic was supposed to be the creation of a proposed farmer's market in Amberley Village.  I was very interested in this as I try to do most of my shopping at local farmers' markets. Like many, I prefer to know where my food comes from, whether it's milk, vegetables, eggs, or meat products. I'm an avid baker and I prefer to use only natural ingredients, even if it means spending up to $4 for a dozen eggs. I believe that food tastes better and is better for you when it is used in its freshest and most natural state.

Well, to date, that farmers' market is nothing more than a dream for Amberley's future, but a question that arose at that meeting set me on a quest to find an answer. The question was "are we allowed to raise our own chickens for eggs in Amberley?" Such a simple question should have a simple answer, right? After all, I have heard for years that Amberley prides itself on its "rural" atmosphere. Heck, I was chastised for calling a "walking path" by the more pedestrian name of "sidewalk" while I was campaigning in favor of safer routes for pedestrians in our Village! Such a small distinction means the world to many of our residents. As for the raising of chickens, however, it seems that Amberley's zoning code hearkened back to a time when suburbanites were trying to shed their rural associations.  In our current Code, chickens likely fall under the definition of "farm animals" and farm animals are prohibited on properties of less than ten acres.  In today's world, chickens are more likely to take their place among the family's pets, have names, and be used to provide their owners with eggs. Section 154.25. Also see Section 154.02 for definitions.

After discussion with the Village manager, Scot Lahrmer, and the Village solicitor, Kevin Frank, I was advised that the way to make any changes to the Village Zoning Code was by bringing legislation to the Planning Commission. The Village Planning Commission is an independent entity consisting of residents who are appointed by Council to serve for four year terms. It's important to note that their terms outlast the  two year election cycle for candidates in Amberley so that the members of the Planning Commission (also the Board of Zoning Appeals) are not influenced by the whims of Council. The Planning Commission is established by the Village Charter and is tasked with hearing appeals to the zoning code and providing equitable relief from hardship, as well as drafting and approving legislation and making recommendations to Council. They hold hearings, call witnesses, and vote as a Board. Since I was asking for a change to the zoning code, I was advised that the Planning Commission was the appropriate committee, not, as I had initially proposed, the Health Education & Welfare committee or the Law Committee, two committees on which I either serve or chair.

The Ordinance that was voted on by 5-0 vote and recommended by the Planning Commission will allow residents to keep up to six chickens (hens only; no roosters) in a well-maintained coop, with liberal setback provisions. Chickens may not be slaughtered -- again, this is an ordinance to allow residents to raise eggs for their own consumption -- and other nuisance laws apply. Consistent with the zoning code, violation of the ordinance is a minor misdemeanor punishable by a $150 fine. A permit must be requested from the Village manager. The proposed Ordinance Section 154.54 can be read by clicking on the link. Unfortunately, if you, like me, live in a neighborhood that is governed by a set of restrictive covenants, like Rollman Estates, you cannot have domesticated chickens, even if Amberley Village passes this ordinance.

On May 14th, residents will have the opportunity to voice their opinion on the proposed change to the zoning code. Please come to the Council meeting and you will be permitted to speak. In the meantime, I invite you to read this beautiful article in 513eats online magazine. It is written by Amberley resident and local food aficionado and chef, Ilene Ross, with photographs by Gina Weathersby.  The New York Times has been reporting on the rise of backyard chickens for several years. Closer to home, the City of Montgomery has a Facebook page dedicated to Chickens for Montgomery. Much of Amberley's ordinance was based upon information gathered from Montgomery, where chickens have been allowed by ordinance since 2009 with no complaints.

Please make sure you are subscribed to notices and the Village e-news on Amberley's website, www.amberleyvillage.org.

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