Will the chicken cross the road to Bremerton?

 Brian Watson watches his five hens feed on oatmeal in his backyard just outside the Bremerton city limits. Watson hopes Bremerton will repeal its prohibition on chickens inside city limits. - Wesley Remmer/ staff photo
Brian Watson watches his five hens feed on oatmeal in his backyard just outside the Bremerton city limits. Watson hopes Bremerton will repeal its prohibition on chickens inside city limits.
— image credit: Wesley Remmer/ staff photo

City Councilman Roy Runyon is gearing up for a cockfight over city chickens.

To the delight of urban farmers and chagrin of some property owners and elected officials, the councilman introduced a measure to allow live chickens within Bremerton city limits at a city Public Safety, Parks and Planning Committee meeting Feb. 3.

"At first I thought it was a joke," said Pauline Meyers, a Manette property owner who fears her property values will decrease if the amendment passes the City Council. "I just don't want the noise and smell next to my property."

The ordinance amendment would allow four female chickens per household, leaving out noisy roosters. Any chicken housing would be required to be at least 12 feet from property lines and six feet from any dwelling.

The Public Safety, Parks and Planning Committee, which would consider the measure, is waiting for city staff to develop a draft ordinance before deciding whether to bring it to the full council.

City Councilman Jim McDonald said there are still other issues that need to be addressed, such as whether Bremerton has the staff to support code enforcement and how the city should regulate chicken slaughter.

"We've still got some homework to do, I think," he said.

Bill Hoke is a Bremerton resident who welcomes fowl legalization. Three years ago, he owned four chickens on his Manette property, but he gave them away after the Humane Society advised him of complaints from neighbors.

Chickens are low-maintenance animals that don't warrant the prohibition in place, he said.

"If there's a downside to this, I really failed to see it," Hoke said. "It's all about sustainability, and chickens are quiet and clean up after themselves and they require no care whatsoever."

He acknowledged that legal limits on chickens are appropriate, such as quantity restrictions and prohibitions on roosters. Meanwhile, the pen and cage he used for his chickens sits empty and ready for new inhabitants.

"Leave us alone and let us have our chickens," he said. "I'm ready."

Brian Watson lives just outside of city limits off Perry Avenue near East Bremerton and keeps five chickens of his own. His neighborhood is as urban as any inside the city boundaries and he's never heard any complaints during the ten years he's intermittently owned hens.

"At least none that I've heard," he added, noting that his neighbors benefit from occasional free eggs.

Though he's exempt from the Bremerton laws, he said he has a few neighbors in Bremerton who keep chickens despite the ban — and if he did live within city limits he'd keep his chickens.

Watson doesn't understand the restrictions on chickens because they're less disturbing than other common pets.

"Barking dogs are far worse than chickens," he said.

They're also more productive than most other pets, pulling weeds around his vegetable garden and providing cheaper eggs than what he finds at the grocery store. He calls apprehensions about allowing chickens in the city "unfounded."

"There's no reason why anyone who wants to have a few birds shouldn't have a few birds," Watson said, envisioning Bremerton living on homegrown eggs from city chickens. "I think it would be great if everyone had a couple of chickens throughout Bremerton."

Fowl opponents such as Meyers cast off urban chickens as a fad. Chickens should be kept outside the city, where they are less likely to bother neighbors, she said.

Seattle allows up to three chickens on any lot.

Mayor Patty Lent said she has no problem with city chickens, as long as owners have the space to support the birds and keep them out of neighbors' way. As for Runyon's proposal, she said the City Council must work with the Community Development department to establish regulations that will work for all residents and prevent unintended consequences.

"I like fresh eggs," Lent said, "but I'm not sure I want to have a yard of chickens next to me."

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