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Bremerton chicken supporters out of the coop

  - file photo
— image credit: file photo

Even though the Bremerton City Council chopped the head off a measure to allow residents to keep a limited number of chickens on their property, hen advocates have vowed to take on the issue themselves.

A growing number of Bremerton chicken proponents are organizing to either pass a citizens’ ordinance through the City Council or put a citizens’ initiative on the ballot for a public vote.

At the same time, opposition to city chickens has hatched.

“I think it’s time for the people to do a little activism of their own,” said Laura Moynihan, the creator of a Facebook fan page, “We Want Urban Chickens in Bremerton!” which has attracted 197 fans since March 5. “I think it would be really good for people in this community to feel like they have a little bit of power over the rules and ordinances in this city.”

The fervor comes after a 2-1 defeat March 3 in the Council’s Public Safety, Parks and Planning Committee of a proposal to allow four hens per household. The opponents of the measure, Councilmen Cecil McConnell and Jim McDonald, had concerns about the complications and costs of enforcing the ordinance. Councilman Roy Runyon cast the lone supporting vote.

Despite the proposal’s death at the Council level, eight city chicken supporters spoke in defense of legalizing hens at that evening’s City Council meeting.

“Among all the cities that allow chickens, Bremerton won’t be there,” said Jean Schanen, an urban gardener on Bloomington Avenue and manager of the downtown local foods store FreshLocal. At the March 3 Council Meeting, she said that 373 cities across the U.S. allow chickens, including Washington cities such as Gig Harbor, Olympia, Tacoma, Bellevue and Seattle.

“It’s just a nonsensical decision and we’re not going to let it go,” Schanen said.

To bring an ordinance to the Council, it must be signed by a number of registered voters equal to 25 percent of the votes cast in the previous mayoral election — in this case, 2,034 signatures — and to be safe, an additional 20 percent should be collected to buffer any invalid signatures, said Runyon. After that, it must be approved by the Kitsap County Auditor’s Office and come to the City Council, which will decide either to vote on the ordinance as written or put it on the ballot for a citizen vote. If the measure comes to a citywide vote, a simple majority will pass the ordinance into law.

Runyon is not surprised by the public backlash following the City Council’s decision to smother the measure. The Manette Neighborhood Association board voted 9-0 in support of city chickens last month and chicken supporters overwhelmed a Manette district meeting with Mayor Patty Lent.

For Karen Danis, a Bremerton resident who neither owns chickens nor would keep any should they be legalized, she views the measure as a question of personal freedom.

“When I look at what can be gained versus the potential challenges to the neighborhood, I feel that the gains win out,” Danis said, citing the environmental benefits of growing one’s own chickens.

In Kitsap County, animal owners can have up to three outdoor pets such as chickens on a property less than 20,000 square feet, up to five outdoor pets on a property between 20,000 and 35,000 square feet, and an additional two pets per acre of area more than 35,000 square feet, with a limit of 20.

Residents who oppose the allowance of hens have asserted that the measure would reduce the value of property neighboring any chickens.

But Manette resident Tamara Smith calls that argument “bogus.”

“When I drive around town and I see the things that are reducing property values, it’s not chickens,” Smith said, adding that junk cars in yards are more damaging to property values than animals.

The chicken proponents’ petition drive has not yet started, but their discussions continue on the Facebook fan page and an e-mail list that includes 47 e-mail addresses.

On Tuesday, an anti-chicken fan page, “We don’t want Urban Chickens in Bremerton!” cropped up, with 21 members as of Wednesday.

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