Southwest Wake News

Southwest Wake officials flocking toward acceptance of backyard chickens

Fuquay-Varina and Holly Springs are the only towns in Wake County that forbid residents from keeping chickens in their yards.

But the increasingly urban area might soon reconnect with its more traditional agricultural roots. Both towns are researching possible rule changes.

Earlier this month, Holly Springs directed town staff to develop a set of rules that would allow chickens in backyard, but with regulations.

Homeowners associations also would be able to overrule the town ordinance and ban their members from raising chickens.

Fuquay-Varina leaders voted earlier this year to direct town staff to look into similar rules allowing, and regulating, chickens in town limits.

Susan Weis, the town’s public information officer, said a report is expected toward the end of the year.

Suburban poultry operations typically consist of a half-dozen or fewer hens living in a small coop or roaming the yard. People rely on their hens for a steady supply of fresh eggs.

Roosters are almost always banned.

Balancing act

This will be the second time in recent years that Holly Springs has raised the issue of backyard chickens.

A 2010 request to consider allowing chickens failed without a vote. No council member seconded a motion by Linda Hunt Williams.

Williams said she’s glad that the council will try to come up with rules, even half a decade later. She said she thinks the votes are now on the pro-chicken side, if the recommendations turn out to be sensible.

She said the process is about finding balance – balancing the rights of homeowners with the rights of neighbors, and balancing the level of government involvement.

“We need to set a standard, townwide, and then get out of the way and let the HOAs fight it out among neighbors,” she said.

Potential problems

A recent Holly Springs memo lists a number of possible downsides to allowing chickens, including “cranky neighbors complaining of noise and smell – even if there isn’t any.”

Another possible issue, which local officials haven’t raised in meetings, is an avian flu outbreak. North Carolina officials say there’s a “significant” chance that bird flu will strike North Carolina this winter. Although it typically hits factory farms, some backyard operations in other states have reported outbreaks.

Another concern cited by Holly Springs is an increased burden on animal control responders.

Cary, though, tested the waters in 2012 after voting 4-3 to allow chickens in a controversial decision.

In 2014, Cary Police received 18 chicken-related complaints, according to the town. There are more 150,000 people in Cary – five times the population of Holly Springs – and more than 40 homes licensed to raise chickens.

There’s also an unknown number of undocumented poultry in local towns, including Holly Springs and Fuquay-Varina, where there have been reports of residents violating the towns’ ban on home poultry.

More fad, less farm

Fuquay-Varina began a similar process this spring, after a resident approached town leaders about her desire to raise chickens.

It’s a trend, she said, along with craft breweries and food trucks, that has gained momentum as part of the increased popularity of locally sourced food and drink.

Robert Burns agrees that people should be able to raise chickens. He lives seven miles west of Fuquay-Varina, in Harnett County, and has a Holly Springs mailing address. He’s also an award-winning raiser of a chicken breed called Ameraucana Bantams, which lay distinctive blue eggs.

Burns can list many reasons why he thinks people should always be able to raise chickens, no matter if they live inside or outside city limits.

He said working with hens can be great stress relief, as well as a good hobby for kids and adults alike. He said he will try to convince local officials that it’s worth it.

“One of the most enjoyable times is to see young children light up when they buy a bird,” he said.

Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran