Thurmont proposes ordinance regulating ownership, upkeep of backyard chickens

Sep. 18—Thurmont has proposed an ordinance on owning and maintaining backyard chickens at residential properties.

The town is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the ordinance on Oct 10.

The ordinance comes after the town's Board of Commissioners heard public comment about some residents owning backyard animals and not properly caring for or cleaning up after them. The complaints mentioned issues with strong odors, manure piles, and rats.

During a town meeting on Sept. 12, Mayor John Kinnaird said the ordinance is necessary to ensure that backyard chicken owners who don't properly care for their animals — and affect other residents with their decisions — will comply.

"It's one of those issues where you trust in people to do the right thing, and the vast majority of people do the right thing ... but there's always that small portion that violate what I consider to be common-sense regulations," he said.

In November 2022, Kinnaird requested that an ordinance be drafted.

Currently, the town has no codes with guidelines specifically on chickens. Its code on animals states that owners must keep animals in securely fenced or enclosed spaces to prevent escape, and the property must be at least a quarter of an acre to have animals that aren't dogs or cats.

The draft ordinance includes sections on applying for a license to keep chickens, the residential lots chickens are allowed on, care and feeding requirements, coop requirements and how many chickens a person can have on their property.

Under the ordinance, a person would have to apply for a license from the town to keep chickens and must register their animals with the state's Department of Agriculture.

Owners would need to provide the animals with a "covered, predator-resistant coop" within specified size requirements. The ordinance also allows only female chickens; it prohibits roosters.

A code enforcement officer could do inspections to ensure compliance with the ordinance. The officer could suspend, reinstate and revoke an ownership license, as well as remove chickens from a property.

The ordinance was proposed on Aug. 22, then brought up during the town meeting on Sept. 12 for further discussion and public comment.

The Board of Commissioners agreed that any roosters people have at the time the ordinance may go into effect will be "aged out," Kinnaird said. Any chicken flocks purchased under the ordinance will not be permitted to have roosters.

Commissioners Wes Hamrick and Wayne Hooper said the residential lots that chickens would be permitted on should only be single-family homes and not include duplexes.

Kinnaird also wanted to change the requirements for the number of chickens to be owned to be a maximum of six chickens on one lot. He suggested striking the other condition that a person may own one chicken for every 500 square feet of backyard space.

At the meeting, Kinnaird suggested adding a 60-day period after issuing notices of noncompliance to give residents time to comply with the ordinance before they are fined.

If the ordinance is passed, Kinnaird said, the 60-day period will give residents who already have chickens enough time to register their animals with Maryland, apply for a local license and be in compliance.

During a public comment period, one resident said the code enforcement officer should be knowledgable on chickens' welfare and care and know what improper care looks like.

Another resident and former town commissioner, Bob Lookingbill, said the Board of Commissioners should consult a "subject matter expert" on chickens before implementing the ordinance.

Other municipalities have passed similar ordinances regulating backyard chickens.

Brunswick passed an ordinance in November allowing residents to keep chickens after years of requests for a law.

The city of Frederick approved an amendment to city code in 2016 allowing up to six hens onto residential properties. Since then, the city has issued several backyard chicken permits.