The public hearing on the proposed chicken ordinance (Ordinance 2016-5) has been postponed because the Committee has referred the Ordinance to the Land Development Board (LDB). The LDB will review the Ordinance for its consistency with Tabernacle’s existing zoning and planning code. Once the LDB completes its review, it will forward its comments to the Committee. It’s likely that the public hearing on the Ordinance will be held at the October 24 meeting, according to Mayor Lee.
Tabernacle’s current zoning code only allows chickens as “agricultural animals,” such as for commercial poultry production. People can have an unlimited number of chickens on their property as “agricultural animals” if their property is a minimum of six acres (Chapter 5-5).
The proposed Ordinance will allow no more than nine hens in residential and agricultural zones in the Township. The minimum lot size would be 1/2 acre. Roosters – male chickens – are prohibited.
The proposed ordinance sets some minimum standards, such as the size of chicken enclosures, setbacks, fencing, health inspections and manure management. But the standards don’t reflect a comprehensive, well thought out planning proposal. There are many important issues that haven’t been addressed at all. Some of the issues that have been addressed haven’t been addressed thoroughly.
The standards for manure management are particularly weak. Proper manure management is critical for two reasons. The first is environmental. The nitrates in manure are pollutants. They travel quickly through Tabernacle’s sandy, porous soils into surface and ground water. Nitrates can harm the water supply. The second problem with manure is its odor if the manure isn’t properly managed.
The proposed ordinance doesn’t set manure management standards that are tailored for chickens on small residential properties. For example, the ordinance doesn’t specify where the chicken manure should be stockpiled; how it should be stockpiled. Shouldn’t a liner be required to prevent runoff from manure? The ordinance doesn’t specify how close to the property line or a residential structure manure can be stockpiled.
The provisions also don’t sufficiently specify how homeowners should get rid of their manure. The proposed ordinance allows land application of chicken manure. But this provision doesn’t make sense for homeowners. Land application of manure is a complex agricultural practice even for commercial poultry producers. It requires specialized equipment, expertise and close monitoring. It’s highly unlikely that a homeowner will be able follow the appropriate practices for land application of manure. There needs to be practical and effective manure management practices designed for homeowners.
The proposed ordinance doesn’t have clear or appropriate zoning setback standards. A setback of 30 feet is established between the chicken enclosure and adjacent residential structures. This distance seems small. Also, the Committee should consider setting the setback from residential uses such as patios, decks and swimming pools. Adjacent homeowners should be able to enjoy these areas without interference from chickens.
Another issue is whether the Committee will permit homeowners to keep roosters they currently own. Will it require that homeowners remove these roosters? Will existing roosters be grandfathered in the Ordinance? The Ordinance is silent on this issue.
I also question why the Ordinance doesn’t permit chickens at a home that’s located in a commercial or industrial zone. A homeowner in a non-residential zone is less likely to have issues with adjacent neighbors. It would seem that if chickens are allowed in residential zones with reasonable restrictions they could also be permitted in non-residential zones with the same restrictions.
More work needs to be done if the Committee is going to allow chickens. It needs to develop proper standards for manure management and appropriate zoning requirements for accessory uses specific to the keeping of chickens. There are many excellent resources available to assist Committee members. It should take advantage of these resources and further consult with the Rutgers University Extension Service and its experts and other universities that have extensive experience with poultry management.
Tabernacle Rescue Squad and Tabernacle Athletic Association Contracts
The Committee has postponed discussion of these two contracts because all committee members weren’t at the September 13 or September 26 meetings. It seems that the Committee has made a policy decision to postpone discussion on important issues even when a majority of members (at least three) are present.
The next Township meeting will be held at town hall, October 24, at 7:30 PM. The video recordings of the September meetings follow.