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City delays action on hens, goats

Staff Writer

The Lincolnton City Council discussed allowing backyard chickens and goats during Thursday’s meeting, but delayed further action until the council’s upcoming planning retreat.
Following a swearing-in ceremony, during which the recently re-elected incumbents Mayor John Gilleland, Ward II council member Dr. John “Les” Cloninger and Ward IV council member Larry Mac Hovis took the oath of office, the council reconvened for its regular meeting at 7 p.m.
As the Times-News previously reported, Planning Director Laura Simmons had been requested to present proposed ordinance amendments allowing for both chickens (specifically hens, not roosters) and goats.
Simmons said she had coordinated with the Lincoln County Animal Control to come up with changes that could be enforced with current staffing levels.
After presenting the draft language — which included stipulations regarding the number of animals allowed, required sanitary and shelter conditions and necessary distance from adjoining properties, among other standards — council members outlined some of their concerns.
Gilleland noted that the requirement for “neat” and “sanitary” conditions was more a matter of opinion, while also adding that the allowing of up to five goats seemed a bit high.
“That’s a lot of goats next door,” he said.
Simmons pointed out, however, that the ordinance also requires at least 1.5 acres of land for a single-family lot to keep goats.
Council member Devin Rhyne again expressed his concern with enforcement if the ordinances were to be put in place, while also asking Simmons what she thought should be done.
Both Simmons and City Manager Jeff Emory echoed Rhyne’s sentiments regarding enforcement issues, with Simmons adding that a tight budget should also be taken into consideration. She warned that the city should have a backup plan established in case it doesn’t work out that the county’s animal control handles the enforcement.
Hovis spoke in favor of the ordinance changes, pointing out that a variety of animals already exist within city limits after having been grandfathered in. Cloninger meanwhile confirmed that any amendments could later be rescinded if complaints arose.
Though council members had already voted unanimously to table it until their planning retreat, supporters spoke on behalf of the issue during the public comments portion of the meeting.
Laurie Russell, who submitted the original request to allow the keeping of backyard chickens and has continued to speak about it at recent meetings, presented some of her own findings on enforcement issues in surrounding jurisdictions.
She noted that most complaints lodged were a result of at-large birds or roosters crowing, with few arising from hens. Russell also said a majority of complaints in some areas was a result of cockfighting or aggressive birds and stressed that she is not asking for roosters. She also pointed out that most people who make an investment in chickens are not going to “let them run loose,” particularly with the threat of nearby coyotes.
Lisa Matthews also signed up to speak. She emphasized that there are “a number of” people interested in and passionate about the issue, while also citing the benefits of chickens as pets and a source of organic food.
Council members will now tackle the issue at their planning retreat, with a public hearing expected at a later date.
In other city council action: •    Council members unanimously approved of various budget amendments.
•    A request from the Downtown Development Association to organize a new event, the “Loveable Lincolnton Wine Weekend,” to coincide with the Art Crawl was passed unanimously.
•    A request from the Downtown Development Association for up to $10,000 to fund a legacy band for the 2012 Hog Happenin’ was passed with a 3-1 vote, with Rhyne opposing. Emory said the Lincolnton Tourism Development Authority can approve the amount and that the vote was just a “courtesy.” Nonetheless, Rhyne said he thought the allotted amount seemed “like a lot of money for a band.” Cathy Davis, chair of the DDA Promotion Work Group, said they hoped to secure a bigger band to attract more people to the event and to bring in more money.
•    Council members unanimously signed off on funding in the amount of $2,000 to support the 2012 “Battle of Ramsour’s Mill” re-enactment. Gilleland also asked the Historical Association’s Jason Harpe about obtaining signage to mark the battle closer to the actual site.
•    Council members heard and unanimously rejected a request from Lincoln County Board of Elections Director Bill C. Beam to allow the use of William Lentz Gym, a city-owned building, as a permanent polling place for the Lincolnton-South precinct for city, county and national elections instead of the Citizens Center. Beam said it would be a benefit to both voters and poll workers because the site was more user-friendly, easier to get in and out of and had better parking, but council members did not believe there was enough of a reason to relocate.
•    Simmons gave an update on Ingles, saying that planning staff has been informed by a representative with the grocery chain that its current plans are to submit an application for a building permit and begin construction later in the year, with the typical construction period lasting eight months. She added that by sometime in 2012, the city should “see that store up.”
•    Council members approved the dates of Feb. 24-25 for their planning retreat.

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