BARNEGAT, NJ -  A couple of chicken owners weren’t looking to ruffle any feathers when they first approached the Township Committee a few months ago.  Aware that the Township ordinance had very specific restrictions on owning “farm animals,” they hoped to make a difference. With time to think about, the Committee decided they’re not going to move forward with an ordinance change.

The “flock” of chicken owners went full blast by setting up a Facebook page looking for support of their cause.  In the meantime, more than a couple received citations to appear in municipal court in violation of the current ordinance.  Timing is everything and they hoped for a reprieve at this month’s Township Committee meeting, scheduled just a few days before their court hearing.

The first person to speak up on the chicken issue was actually someone who opposed the idea. Resident James Richard Pierce III relayed his opinion regarding chickens in backyards.

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“I once lived near neighbors who owned chickens,” shared Piece. “During the summers the scent was unbearable. “

Mayor Al Cirulli responded to Pierce’s concerns. “The ordinance is going to stay in place,” he said. “There were fines that were issued. I can’t say anything anymore, because it’s going to court.”

A number of chicken owners continued to state their case. One suggested that unpleasant smells don’t necessarily come from chickens, but rather from ducks.  Another opined that problems with noise complaints could also be addressed as far as the roosters.

“Hens are just like birds in the sky,” Brandon Baker, a chicken owner, opined. He says he and others will continue to fight for the ordinance change. He suggested that the town institute a fee, which would presumably pay for Township officials to come out and check conditions.

After listening to Baker present his case about how well he takes care of his chickens in his backyard, Township Attorney Christopher Dasti stated. “Every town has land use ordinances and requirements,” he said. “Before you put your chicken coop, had you reviewed the ordinance, you would have seen that it was illegal.”

Baker said he’d moved from another state and complained about a number of New Jersey regulations. Dasti told him that if he found the ordinance to be unfair, he could apply for a variance with the Zoning Board. At least one of the chicken owners rents property in Barnegat. According to New Jersey laws, renters may request variances with the permission of the property owner.

The Township Committee listened to several members of the community speak in support and in opposition to chickens in areas zoned residential with space limitations.

Sarai-Ann Knott, who moved to Barnegat a year ago is one of the chicken owners who received a citation for having chickens on less than an acre. She is also the administrator for the Chickens for Barnegat Facebook page. 

According to Knott, and chicken owner Christopher Anthony Aguilar, they both appeared in municipal court and received fines of $250 each, plus $33 in court costs. They were also given a three-day deadline to remove the chickens from their property or face an additional fine of $750.

Both Knott and Aguilar did find someone to take in their chickens and avoid further penalties. In a Facebook post on the day of the surrender, Aguilar said, “Today is the day we are bringing our babies to a rescue, which is amazing, and we have the ability to get them back.”

“Our nine ducks and four chickens will reunite with their papa Elvis,” he continued. “Cassandra Tauschek and I are torn up and not giving up just protecting our babies until we come up with a resolution to the issue of chickens for Barnegat.”

Aguilar does not know if anyone has filed an application with the Zoning Board for a variance. “Although we haven’t applied for a variance yet, we have our landlord’s permission to do so. Up until now, we’ve been involved with rehoming the chickens.”

In continuing to be proactive, Aguilar also has started a petition asking for the legalization of chickens and ducks. At the time of publication, 230 people have signed in support.

Stephanie A. Faughnan is a local journalist and Director of Writefully Inspired, a professional writing and resume service. Feel free to contact her at sfaughnan@tapinto.net.