Bremerton chicken proponents hope it doesn't take the ballot box

Supporters of urban chickens in Bremerton hope to have a petition drive underway by the end of the week, with the intent of changing a city ordinance to allow hens in city limits.

With about 2,400 signatures, the citizens' initiative, when submitted to the city, can either be passed into law by the Bremerton City Council as written or be placed before voters in an election.

But petitioners hope it won't come to that.

Unveiling the petition at an April 5 District 4 meeting, organizers of the chicken campaign said the intent of the signature drive is to catch the City Council's attention so they can pass an ordinance themselves.

"The citizens' initiative is our way of trying to get the City Council to actually do their job and prioritize this issue and decide on it in a meeting," Laura Moynihan said earlier in the day. Moynihan is the creator of the 297-member Facebook fan page, "We Want Urban Chickens in Bremerton!" Moynihan did not attend the meeting, but has helped publicize the chicken movement.

"If the council decides to prioritize before we turn it in, we're going to drop the issue," she said.

The public fervor behind a citizens' initiative comes after the City Council's Public Safety, Parks and Planning Committee defeated 2-1 a proposal to allow chickens in city limits March 3. Councilmen Cecil McConnell and Jim McDonald opposed the measure, outnumbering the issue's advocate, Councilman Roy Runyon.

Patty Zwick, who introduced the petition to about 30 people at the meeting, said putting the issue to a public vote would be too costly.

"We don't want the petition to have to go to an election," she said.

Runyon, who hosted the April 5 meeting, said it would cost about $39,000 for the city to hold a special election for the measure.

The proposed ordinance would amend city codes to allow four hens per household, provided they remain in an enclosed area at all times and that henhouses would be located at least five feet from all property lines. All nuisance laws that apply to regular pets would apply to the chickens. Zwick said the ordinance proposal was written to appeal to would-be hen owners and non-hen owners alike to ensure the measure would gain as much support as possible.

Petitioners were advised to wait about a day before collecting signatures so Assistant City Attorney Ken Bagwell could recommend minor changes in language to the proposed ordinance.

Also attending the meeting were McDonald, who said he voted against the measure due to enforcement concerns, and Councilman Greg Wheeler, who hasn't decided on the issue, but said he wanted to ensure that all hen owners would be responsible for their chickens.

While some in attendance argued whether four hens would be enough to sustain one household, others expressed discontentment that citizens had to take up the issue at all.

"It's not like we're going to have a chicken on every block. It's not this huge overwhelming problem that people make out to be," said Jordy Andrew, who said he would not own chickens if they were legalized, but supported the effort. "It irritates me deeply that we would have to go to all the trouble to run a citizens' initiative."

Others at the meeting cited chicken laws in other nearby cities. Seattle allows upward of three chickens, depending on the size of the lot, while Bellevue allows at least six. Neither city prohibits roosters, as the proposed Bremerton ordinance would. Seattle has received an average of five chicken-related complaints per year in the last eight years, while Bellevue has heard about two complaints annually in the past 10 years.

The story has been corrected. - AB

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