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Sylva votes to allow 10 hens per acre in downtown business district

Last updated on April 23, 2023

Update: A previous version of this article stated: “Commissioner Greg McPherson cast the lone opposing vote stating he felt the board should follow the full recommendation of the planning board to ban poultry keeping in the downtown business district.”

This opposing vote belongs to Commissioner Ben Guiney.

We regret the error.


By Kristin Fox

The fate of Sylva’s downtown chickens has finally been decided. At last week’s regular session meeting of the Sylva Town Board of Aldermen, city officials voted 3 to 1 to adopt an Ordinance to Amend Article 5.4.C.1 of the Town Code entitled: Agricultural Uses, which will allow chickens to be kept downtown.. The vote followed a public hearing at which no one from the public signed up to speak.

The revised version of the ordinance that commissioners passed will allow up to 10 hens per acre and one rooster per 10 hens including in the downtown business district. Commissioners added a deadline for compliance of the 10 hens’ stipulation to within one year of the adoption of the ordinance. The allowance of one rooster will be effective immediately.

Commissioner Ben Guiney cast the lone opposing vote stating he felt the board should follow the full recommendation of the planning board to ban poultry keeping in the downtown business district.

The town commissioners followed the recommendation of the town planning board with a few, but significant, exceptions. The recommendation of the planning board to not allow poultry in the downtown business district was struck from the amended ordinance. 

The adopted ordinance under the heading “Poultry keeping is allowed within the Town of Sylva’s jurisdiction, subject to meeting certain standards states:” “Where the minimum lot size meets or exceeds seven thousand (7,000) square feet and is no more than one (1) acre in size up to ten (10) hens are allowed. Where the lot size is greater than one (1) acre, no more than twenty (20) hens are allowed;” and “One (1) rooster is allowed for every ten (10) hens.”

In addition, the ordinance states that poultry are permitted on lots with single-family detached dwelling units only. All poultry must be contained. Poultry must be kept in a coop and pen, or portable chicken tractors, and such coops and enclosures may not include residential structures or garages. 

The coop and pen must be closer to the chicken owner’s primary residential unit than the neighboring residential unit. The coop must follow standards for accessory use structures. A minimum setback of 15 feet is required from all property lines or not within 50 feet of an adjoining property’s residential unit.

The original ordinance was as follows:

Article 5.4.C.1 – Agricultural Uses 

  • Level 1 The production, principally for use or consumption of the property owner or community members, of plants, animals, or their products and for sale to others where such sales are incidental, including but not limited to the following: gardening, fruit production, beekeeping, and poultry and livestock products for household use only. 
  • The keeping of animals is subject to the requirements contained in the Code of Ordinances of the Town of Sylva: Chapter 6, Animals and Chapter 16, Health and Sanitation. 

After discussion and affirmative vote by the planning board the ordinance was amended to add the section on poultry which has been revised to meet the demands of the public.

The changes to regulate poultry in the city limits was first discussed over a year ago when the town commissioners began reviewing several proposed changes to the town’s land-use plans which were examined as part of the state requirement mandating that municipalities in North Carolina update their respective development regulations and Land Use Plans/Comprehensive Plans in order to be in compliance with the new Chapter 160D of the North Carolina General Statutes. The goal of 160D is to consolidate current city and county statutes for development regulations into one coherent chapter.

With a broad array of ordinances for town staff to review, everything from regulating short-term rentals to chicken-keeping, Sylva contracted with WithersRavenel to update its current Land Use Plan, as well as its Zoning and Subdivision Ordinance, following the completion of an ordinance assessment in the spring of 2019.

The proposed ordinance change involving the town’s livestock, including poultry, was tabled after nearly a dozen residents spoke against the updated regulations — which would have limited the number of livestock allowed inside the city limits.

Most of the opposition regarding the ordinance came from organizers and attendees of the Jackson Arts Market, a festival that started in November 2020 and has continued to grow.

The market has resident chickens who have become a popular attraction for many downtown visitors. Many believed the proposed restrictions would eliminate the chickens.

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