Bremerton City Council to vote on chicken measure next month

After an eight-month battle by Bremerton City Councilman Roy Runyon and local activists, a measure to allow residents to keep four backyard hens in Bremerton will come to a Council vote Nov. 3.

The proposed ordinance contains tightened requirements compared to the previous draft rejected in March, including a licensing fee and longer setbacks of hen houses from neighboring property lines, but urban hen supporters who have advocated the law since February lauded the move.

The Council discussed the measure at Wednesday’s study session after the Public Safety, Parks and Planning Committee agreed to let the initiative be debated by the full Council the week before. The last time the committee considered the measure in March, it was rejected with a 2-1 vote.

Since then, amendments have been made to the original measure to cater to the concerns of Councilman Jim McDonald, one of the “no” votes in March. Because of Councilman Cecil McConnell’s stance that the measure should go to a public vote, chicken supporters have eyed McDonald as the key to moving the law forward, if they could persuade him to change his position.

One of McDonald’s concerns was an estimate issued by the Kitsap Humane Society earlier in the year that a new chicken ordinance would cost taxpayers another $45,000 for a new animal enforcement officer. The Humane Society has since retracted that figure, saying it remains “neutral” on the issue.

Changes to the ordinance itself include a $12.50 per household annual license fee and an increase in the distance hen houses must be kept from neighboring property lines, from five to 10 feet.

“It’s definitely a balance,” McDonald said Wednesday of the compromises. “It’s something I’m comfortable with.”

Council members at Wednesday’s study session brought up additional proposals on the ordinance, including a provision for pulling or denying a chicken license for ordinance violators and adding a sunset clause that would require the Council to review the ordinance after a specific period of time. The measure will be reviewed again at the Oct. 27 study session before coming to a final vote Nov. 3.

The November vote could be the last step to victory for the group of chicken supporters who have lobbied since February and collected signatures for a citizens’ initiative since April. About a dozen hen advocates sat in on the study session with chicken stickers on their shirts.

The petition, if it were to collect about 2,500 signatures, would force the City Council to give an up-or-down vote on the measure as written. If it were to fail, it would be put before voters in a special election.

But petitioners don’t want it to come to that — the intention of their initiative was to pressure the Council to pass its own law, which it may do in a few weeks.

“I’m very excited about it,” said Patty Zwick, one of the coordinators of the signature drive. “This is what we have wanted all along. This is the Council doing what the Council should be doing.”

Councilwoman Dianne Robinson spoke in support of the chicken measure and those who have campaigned for it.

“I feel this is an ordinance that is way overdue,” Robinson said.

The pro-chicken campaign — which includes a 602-member Facebook group and has sprinkled the city with “For 4” signs — has had its hiccups. After having collected almost 1,300 signatures, the group had to start over in August after the signatures were deemed invalid due to the lack of a date next to each name. Since then, Zwick estimates the group has garnered between 600 and 1,000 new signatures on its way to the goal of 2,500.

Despite greater optimism that the Council will allow chickens, the group is continuing its collection in case the measure is shot down.

“We won’t stop until we have it on the books one way or the other,” Zwick said.

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