More than one year after Cherry Hill Chickens proposed implementing a backyard chicken pilot program in Cherry Hill, township officials are continuing to study the issue.
A group of Cherry Hill residents and backyard chicken enthusiasts appeared before Cherry Hill Township Council for the first time on April 11, 2016. Their goal was to get an ordinance passed so residents could keep chickens in their backyards.
In March 2016, Cherry Hill resident Brad Bricker formed a group called Cherry Hill Chickens to rally residents in support of the change. At the April 11 council meeting, the group answered questions from Mayor Chuck Cahn and members of township council with the hope council would consider an ordinance implementing a pilot program similar to what surrounding towns such as Haddon Township had recently launched.
More than a year later, the chicken issue is still up in the air. Council has not yet considered a proposed ordinance and township officials continue to study the issue.
Over the past year, Bricker said the Cherry Hill Chickens group is continuing to grow and plans to be more vocal on the issue.
“More and more people are starting to be involved, not in big numbers, but they are speaking out about it,” he said.
The backyard chicken dilemma came to light at the April 11 council meeting after a few residents, including Old Orchard resident Angela Hulfish, said they received a warning from a township zoning officer about having chickens on their property.
At the meeting, Cahn promised Bricker and Baile he would schedule a meeting with them. A meeting was held a short time later, where Bricker said he presented township officials with lots of information on backyard chickens and some of the programs other towns are implementing.
“They provided a lot of information,” Cherry Hill Township Chief of Staff Erin Patterson Gill said about the meeting. “They were very well versed in what they were talking about what they were looking to do.”
Since that meeting, Bricker said he has not heard any official news about a possible ordinance. He said the last time he spoke to Cahn was at Sustainable Cherry Hill Earth Festival in April, where Cherry Hill Chickens had a tent set up.
Township officials said there are a number of hurdles the township must get past before moving forward on the chicken issue. One hurdle is the size of the town. Township director of communications Bridget Palmer said most of the towns adopting pilot programs in South Jersey are significantly smaller than Cherry Hill
“This is a large community,” she said. “We have a lot of different, diverse neighborhoods with different needs.”
Gill added the township has heard opposition from residents who do not want backyard chickens in Cherry Hill. She said the township needs to strike a balance when considering the issue.
“One of the challenges here is we are a large community and in some neighborhoods, yards are on the smaller side and are very close together,” she said.
Cherry Hill Township is also planning to reexamine its master plan this year. Palmer said a backyard chicken program could dovetail into the revised master plan.
Last spring, a handful of nearby towns launched their own backyard chicken pilot programs. On April 18, Haddon Heights Borough Council adopted an ordinance to establish a pilot program for backyard hens. Delran Township Council established its own pilot program on May 2 and Gloucester Township Council also considered a backyard chicken ordinance in May. Township officials said they are looking at how pilot programs are operating in other towns.
Since last year, Cherry Hill Chickens has done some outreach in the community to raise awareness. The group has reserved space at each of the last two Sustainable Cherry Hill Earth Festivals. In addition, the group has had multiple meetings this year to organize its efforts.
Some residents have expressed their support for backyard chickens on social media. On Facebook, resident Beau Berger began circulating an online petition in June in support of a backyard chicken ordinance.
Bricker said he is encouraging backyard chicken supporters to continue speaking out about the issue in hopes of bringing a program to Cherry Hill in the near future.
“The message I’ve been sending is clear: make your voice be heard,” Bricker said. “I’m telling (supporters) to call the mayor, write your council people, tell them you’re 100 percent in support.”
Township officials said the issue remains on their radar and they will make sure to get community input before council considers a measure.
“We’re not going to make a decision without some kind of outreach with the Cherry Hill Chickens group,” Gill said.