BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The case for residential chicken-keeping in Bridgewater will have to wait even longer.
The Bridgewater Township Council, on Jan. 18, again tabled the introduction of a land use ordinance that would permit the keeping and harvesting of chickens and their products, namely eggs, as an accessory use under certain circumstances.
The council had previously tabled the matter in September, when it was also mentioned that the keeping of chickens is not currently permitted by the township.
“Chickens are a contentious (issue) in Bridgewater,” said town planner Scarlett Doyle.
She said the matter had been denied several times before, and that she had examined regulations regarding prohibited agricultural uses, which had been brought to the attention of the town administration.
Council vice president Matthew Moench said it was his understanding that if something was not significantly prohibited in Bridgewater, then it was permitted. He also posited that the zoning officer had the unilateral power to decide.
Councilman Howard Norgalis said he had concerns about the ordinance, regardless of lot size. He felt that putting a confined area, such as an outdoor chicken coop, up against a property line was inappropriate. He also said that coops had to be fenced in, to keep chicken predators out.
Moench said he had no problem permitting chickens, although he asked if there were reasonable restrictions, or a waste management plan. He also said that in an R-50 single-family zone in Bridgewater, as designated by zoning, any form of agriculture and farm products was okay.
“I don’t understand how chickens are not now permitted,” he said.
Doyle said the definition of a farm, where chickens are normally kept, is either commercial, or consists of at least 5 acres.
Moench asked about allowing bees in town, as the council had passed a resolution that night opposing new state-generated restrictions on the keeping of residential honeybees. Doyle said bees are considered wild animals, which leave the matter to the state’s Department of Agriculture.
“It’s a solution in search of a problem, it seems,” said Moench of the chicken issue.
“We’d like to have some control,” said township administrator James Naples of the potential ordinance, and about allowing chickens on a limited basis.
Doyle said that about 30 to 40 years ago, residents forced a chicken establishment out of town, ostensibly due to waste management and odors. Norgalis had said at the September meeting that chickens that were kept outdoors consumed more insects, which led to them producing more foul-smelling fecal matter, as opposed to their counterparts that were kept indoors and subsisted on corn.
Doyle added that other municipalities only seemed to regulate noise, specifically the call of roosters, in regards to keeping chickens. A Bridgewater ordinance for keeping chickens could potentially exclude roosters, not even as a pre-existing, non-conforming use.
Councilman Allen Kurdyla, who generally agreed with the ordinance, asked about accessories for chicken feed, and if they had to be kept 20 feet from the property line. He also said that his son kept chickens in his town, although they were in a confined area and were not running around an open yard.
Norgalis suggested tabling the ordinance, as he said he could not support it that night, while Naples asked for comments from Doyle.
According to township attorney William Savo, Moench seemed to believe the council might be overreacting. Moench replied that he didn’t know of any problems, but that he had also never received any e-mails or messages regarding chickens.
Naples said that if there is no ordinance, there will be no keeping of chickens. Doyle said the township would be “well-served” by putting in controls, such as number of chickens allowed, locations of coops, dealing with odors and more.
Council president Christine Henderson Rose inquired about violations and penalties, and if chickens could be taken away from their owners.
Norgalis said owners could be taken to court, as opposed to removing their chickens. Doyle asked if she could make some amendments to the ordinance, and the council agreed.
The ordinance was then tabled by the four council members in attendance.