Chickens now legal in Durham North Carolina!
Durham says yes to backyard chickens
by Matt Saldaña for Indyweek.com, 18 FEB 2009
After months of debate and three contentious public hearings, the Durham City Council voted Feb. 16 to allow backyard chickens. The unexpectedly unanimous decision delighted many in attendance, prompting more than 50 supporters to burst into applause as City Hall's electronic scoreboard lit up with green bars, indicating 7 "yes" votes.
The vote was a victory for urban chicken enthusiasts, who organized around the issue and named their group the Durham HENS, for Healthy Eggs in Neighborhoods Soon.
After reciting a litany of egg-related metaphors ("This ordinance has been scrambled. ... Tonight, hopefully it will be served on a platter, sunny-side-up"), Councilman Eugene Brown announced that he had run out of logical reasons to oppose the change.
"When restrictions are in place, which they are, when almost every city in the state allows hens, which they do, I hope council will take the position of enhancing citizens' freedoms, and not denying it," said Brown.
Supporter Frank Hyman, a former councilman, speculated that the presence of young supporters—and Durham civil rights legend Ann Atwater, seated in the front row—made a convincing argument.
Seated behind Atwater was a row of teenagers who work at Durham Inner-City Gardeners (DIG), a youth-driven urban farming initiative of Durham SEEDS, the nonprofit city garden. Rashida Smith, 15, spoke matter-of-factly about the benefits of learning to raise independent food sources.
"I have never kept chickens, and don't know what it would be like, but in my opinion I think chickens in Durham will be a good opportunity to learn and see what happens," she said.
The youth support prompted scorn and a sideshow of drama from Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People chairwoman Lavonia Allison, however. Allison, a powerful political figure, belittled a group of urban teenagers who spoke in support of the measure, at times pointing her finger at supporters in the gallery and saying, "Shame on you."
Before Smith addressed the council, Allison spoke dismissively of the presence of inner-city youths in favor of the amendment—whose presence seemed to undercut her arguments at earlier meetings that supporters did not speak for urban neighborhoods.
"I see we have a more mixed group of young folk here tonight," Allison said. "They've been asked to come speak for some other folks, who don't have 50-foot lots."
Afterward, Smith said she wasn't worried about the icy reception, and that she had so much fun participating that she would consider speaking at future council meetings.
"Everyone has their own opinions. People can say what they want," she said.
Destiney Robinson, 16, chimed in: "I just wanted to get up and say [to Allison]: 'We're teenagers. We're still learning. We're participating in the discussion. That should be all that matters.'"
Mayor Bill Bell—who donned a Carolina blue UNC sweatshirt over his suit as penance for losing a basketball bet with Chapel Hill's Mayor Kevin Foy—said his vote came down to added protections for adjacent landowners, who will be given mandatory 30-day notice, and the opportunity to appeal the chicken permits.
Members of HENS have agreed to donate extra eggs to the Durham Rescue Mission.
Durham's new ordinance allowing backyard hens in city limits takes effect immediately, according to City Manager Tom Bonfield. Raleigh and Carrboro already permit them. Chapel Hill's Town Council is scheduled to vote on the issue Monday, Feb. 23.