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Sylva’s chickens are safe… for now

The future of Sylva’s chickens has been put on hold after a lengthy public comment on proposed changes to the town’s ordinance. 

The Sylva Town Board was set to approve changes to the town’s ordinance governing livestock within the city limits last week, however after dozens of residents attended the meeting to object to the changes, commissioners voted to table the discussion for now. 

The meeting last week reflected 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. 

While the town voted to approve changes such as establishing social districts that will permit alcoholic beverages to be carried on the streets, the discussion involving the town’s livestock was tabled after nearly a dozen residents spoke against the updated regulations — which would limit the number of livestock allowed inside the city limits. 

The updated regulations would permit no more than 10 hens on any lot within town jurisdiction. Roosters would only be permitted in low- and medium-density residential zones. The regulations require chickens to be secured in a coop during non-daylight hours, with coops kept in rear yards only and with a minimum setback of 15 feet from the side and rear property lines. Chicken coops would have to be closer to the chicken owner’s primary residence than any neighboring units. 

Most of the opposition regarding the ordinance came from organizers and attendees of the Jackson Arts Market. The Jackson Arts Market was the idea of Josh Murch an artist himself who specializes in glass art.  He says the reason he wanted to start this festival was to “keep the dream alive for these artists.”  The festival started in November 2020 and has been growing since. Resident chickens have become a mainstay at the festival, which sees local artists and live music every Saturday. 

Kayla Peck spoke about the free, educational benefits of having the chickens at the Jackson Arts Market and how the chickens have not only become part of the market’s identity but part of Sylva’s as well. 

“If you want to keep Sylva, Sylva,” said Peck, “it needs the chickens.”

“The chickens provide an organic waste disposal service for restaurants in town and provide fresher eggs than those found in stores,”  Molly Harrison said to commissioners. “I vend at the market every weekend, and every weekend we have people show up strictly to enjoy the chickens.”

Restricting the space allowed for livestock, supporters of the Arts Market believe the proposed changes would eliminate the chickens. 

“Where the minimum lot size meets or exceeds 7,000 square feet, up to 10 hens are allowed with an approved Use Permit, subject to meeting certain standards. Roosters are only permitted within the low density and medium density zoning districts. Chickens are permitted on lots with single-family homes only and must be kept in a coop and pen, or portable chicken tractors. Chickens must be secured in the chicken coop during non-daylight hours.”

Commissioner Greg McPherson spoke about his personal frustrations with chickens within the town limits. 

“I’ve not complained about your rooster at all, but your rooster wakes me up every night at 2 o’clock in the morning, every night,” said McPherson. “You live in a community where you have neighbors. You’re not sensitive to that. This ordinance is not getting rid of your chickens, it’s getting rid of 50 chickens that are living in the mud at this point. Your lot needs to be regulated because it is not sanitary. Your rooster needs to go away because I don’t want to be downtown in a business where I would like some peace and quiet and hear your rooster. I just think that in this ordinance, there needs to be some process for us to talk about the noise that these animals are going to make.”

The Town of Sylva voted to approve the majority of proposed ordinance changes but removed points of contention including the chicken-keeping regulations as well as changes to environmental code violations to be discussed at a later date. 

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