Advocates of raising backyard chickens for egg production inched closer to victory Tuesday night, with the Metro Council giving preliminary approval of a bill that would allow the housing of chickens in Davidson County’s urban residences.
By voice vote, the council approved on the second of three votes a Councilwoman Karen Bennett-sponsored ordinance that would legalize the housing of hens in urban dwellings, provided a host of sanitation and other conditions are met. The council defeated a similar bill in 2009. Only a handful of council members voiced opposition this time around.
“There’s an interest in getting back to agriculture,” said Mary Pat Boatfield, one of nearly 200 chicken advocates who attended Tuesday’s meeting, many of whom spoke at a one-hour public hearing.
“Chickens are easy to handle,” she said. “They can teach a young child a lot of things. There are very docile breeds. It’s a chance for us to touch back to our agricultural roots, especially in this state. We need to be part of the food system. We need to understand it.”
With the latest hurdle cleared, the backyard chicken ordinance is set to go before the council for third and final approval in two weeks.
Under Metro’s existing code, chickens are not permitted in any homes within the Urban Services District — which consists of the oldest parts of Nashville, largely the urban core — or within the suburban General Services District in lots smaller than five acres. Bennett’s bill authorizes the keeping of chickens in both districts, but on a limited basis, with six hens the limit in parcels greater than 10,237 square feet.
To house domesticated hens, Davidson County residents would need to apply for an annual $25 permit with the Metro Health Department.
At Tuesday’s meeting, only Antioch-area councilmen Robert Duvall and Duane Dominy expressed hesitation about the proposal.
Duvall, who represents District 33 on the council, said he would seek to exempt his district from the new law if it were approved: “People in my community don’t want this,” he said.
But only three Nashvillians took advantage of a public hearing to express concerns about the bill. Those who have anxiety said backyard chickens would produce unwanted noise, odor and lessen the feel of some neighborhoods.
Dozens of people, many wearing yellows T-shirts designating their affiliation with the group Urban Chicken Advocates of Nashville, lined up to speak for the ordinance. Proponents spoke of the lost art of agriculture and the need to support self-sufficient food sources, which they said is cheaper and healthier.
“Many residents in Nashville are united in their desire to produce their own food locally,” said Andrew Greer, who spoke Tuesday for approval of the bill. “Local farming lets people know where their food is coming from.”
Supporters called the notion backyard chickens would produce unpleasant smells or loud noises “myths and stereotypes.” Some said Nashvillians are already housing chickens.
“I have a lot of neighbors with a lot of different pets,” one woman said. “I can tell you where every single dog lives and identify them by their bark. We have a lot of chickens living in individual yards in our neighborhood. Many of them I had absolutely no idea about until I started asking my immediate neighbors about this [bill.]”
The backyard chicken bill contains several conditions that relies on the Metro Codes department to enforce.
Hens must be kept in “predator-proof” covered henhouses requiring building permits. Henhouses must be at least 10 feet from property lines and 25 from other houses. There can be “no perceptible” odor from the hens. Feed must be stored in containers with metal lids.
Under the bill, no slaughtering of hens can take place on properties. Dead chickens would have to be removed “as quickly as possible” via the Metro Public Works Department. Finally, to ease concerns about cockfighting, the bill prohibits the training of chickens for amusement, sport or financial gain.