Balto. Co. may review backyard chicken regulations

Some Baltimore County officials want to consider whether to allow more residents to keep chickens in their yards, making the county the latest local government in Maryland to examine a national coop craze.

A County Council resolution being considered this month calls for a review of regulations that restrict many residents from keeping chickens in their yards. Council members say many constituents want them to examine the issue.

"There seems to be a growing movement of people that are really into fresh eggs and healthy, organic foods," said Council Chairman Tom Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat who sponsored the resolution. "It's a national trend, and more and more I hear from constituents."

Council members are set to discuss the resolution Aug. 27, with a vote scheduled Sept. 3.

In Baltimore County, a resident can only raise chickens and other livestock on property that's an acre or larger. But many governments across the country are loosening similar rules to allow more people to raise their own chickens. Last month, Howard County eased its zoning regulations on backyard poultry.

Catonsville resident Cal Oren is among Baltimore County residents who have been pushing the council for several years to look at the issue.

"People should be free to make their own choices about what they want in their backyard, as long as it doesn't pose a hazard or harm their neighbors or their neighborhoods or the public," Oren said.

Many enthusiasts like raising chickens for the health benefits of fresh eggs, Oren said. But people also enjoy keeping chickens as pets, he said.

"They're not just egg-laying machines — they have personality. They are friendly," he said. "They are pets, but they have a purpose. So they're somewhere in between an egg-laying machine and the family dog."

Having the planning board examine the issue would allow an in-depth study, said J.B. Osborne, senior legislative adviser to Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who co-sponsored the resolution along with Councilman David Marks.

"The councilpeople aren't experts in agriculture, by any stretch of the imagination," Osborne said.

While many residents have asked to loosen the rules, some people are concerned about the "unintended consequences" of more chickens, he said.

"After they stop laying eggs, what are you doing with them?" Osborne said.

Quirk said a planning board study of the issue would be only "the first stage" in a potential change in regulations.

"I do think there's not a unified position from the council on this issue," Quirk said. "Several members may be against it."

alisonk@baltsun.com

twitter.com/aliknez