Council quits playing chicken

Hannah Gross, NLJ Correspondent

After discussing the issue of backyard chickens at a public meeting on May 25, Newcastle City Councilman Ty Owens made a motion on June 6 at the council meeting to research and then adopt a backyard chicken ordinance. 

“Most of the council people felt like, after the public meeting, this was something that seemed like the majority of the people were wanting,” Owens said. 

Everyone had the opportunity to attend the meeting and make comments for or against backyard chickens, and according to Owens, there appeared to be “overwhelming” favor from those who attended. The public meeting brought about “20 or so” people from the community. Two were opposed to adopting a backyard chicken ordinance, one was indifferent and the rest were in favor, Owens said. 

Mayor Pam Gualtieri suggested tabling the issue because she thought more discussion was warranted. She wanted more information from the opposition, and she read aloud three letters — whose identifications were not divulged at the public meeting — listing the writers’ concerns and suggestions. 

Owens said at the meeting that their comments were irrelevant because in the past, anonymous letters were not allowed as a public comment.

“It’s not that what they’re saying wasn’t relevant … whatever the public says is relevant, (but) you should stand behind your comment,” Owens said in an interview with the News Letter Journal. 

Gualtieri also said she was concerned about the bird flu that is spreading. The Wyoming State Fair has decided not to allow chickens at the fair this year because of it, but Owens asked not to table the motion because he believed the flu problem will pass by the time an ordinance becomes effective. Ordinances require three readings to pass.

Councilwoman Ann McColley added that she personally did not want a backyard chicken ordinance, but the meeting showed that the public favored it. She conceded that the council was there to represent the people and not the council members’ own interests, and indicated that she would support drafting an ordinance. 

The motion to proceed with an ordinance is only the first step. The city will have to determine how many chickens will be permitted in relation to property size, what happens when a chicken escapes, who will enforce the regulations and how to address concerns about noise, fecal matter and avian flu. 

Owens said that City Attorney Mike Hughes would bring backyard chicken ordinances from other communities to the next council meeting for the council’s consideration.

“We could possibly try to get some of the public together to try to look at different ordinances and try to get something that would fit our community,” Owens said. “There’s still kinks that need to be worked out.”

The three readings for passage will take at least a month and a half, Owens said. He also acknowledged that people are concerned about irresponsible chicken owners, but he believes it won’t be as bad as some have predicted. 

“I don’t think that everyone should be punished because you have a few bad actors,” Owens said. “Some of the complaints were about noise and smells that chickens produce. We have people in town with dogs that produce smells and noises, but we’re not going to ban dogs. I think chickens are going to be a positive thing for our community.” 


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