Levy Court: Dangerous animals and backyard chickens at issue

DOVER — Commissioners weighed the options of repealing a dangerous animal ban and increasing restrictions on backyard chickens Tuesday night at a Kent County Levy Court committee meeting.

Although the two proposals were not related and were brought up separately, both were fielded by 4th District Commissioner Eric Buckson during the planning services committee.

Dangerous animals

The existing ordinance, adopted in 2000, states that it’s unlawful for any person to be in possession of any dangerous animals within the unincorporated area of Kent County.

Dangerous animals are defined as: “Any mammal, amphibian, reptile or arachnid that, because of its size, nature or other characteristic(s), would constitute a danger to human life or property if it escaped from secure quarters.” Animals mentioned in the ordinance “include, but are not limited to alligators, bears, boids (constrictor snakes), caimans, crocodiles, felids, gavials, nonhuman primates, wolves and any poisonous amphibian, reptile or arachnid.”

Although Mr. Buckson was not calling for a vote, he was interested in starting a dialog about removing the ordinance.

His concerns hinged on the claims that the ordinance is difficult to enforce and that it duplicates the efforts an existing state permitting process.

“The reality is that they (dangerous animals) are already here,” said Mr. Buckson. “One of the reasons we don’t know about it is because of the existing laws, we force it underground. If we mirror the same laws in Sussex and New Castle counties and simply allow the state to regulate it, then that’s reality. I don’t like over regulation and I don’t think this is stopping snakes and gators from coming into the county.”

Sarah Keifer, director of the Department of Planning Services, said issues with the policy are rare, but a recent inquiry raised attention to it.

“It’s an item that doesn’t come up terribly often to our office,” she said. “But we did have an inquiry in the last few months and had to tell them that it was not permitted in our code. The state does regulate exotic animals and does have a permitting process through the Department of Agriculture.

From what I can see, we are the only jurisdiction that prohibits them entirely.”

Commissioners in favor of maintaining the ban were concerned about dangerous animals escaping and harming residents or local habitats and the danger they pose to first responders who may enter a home unaware of an animal’s presence.

The issue was tabled following the discussion and no further action was taken.

Backyard chickens

According to Ms. Keifer, the county receives a fairly consistent amount of complaints and questions about the policy regarding backyard chickens.

“For some time we’ve had many inquires about — and not a few complaints about — backyard chickens,” she said. “Recently, noise from roosters seems to be upsetting neighbors.”

County zoning does not contain specific regulations regarding the keeping of backyard chickens, although it does address the placement of coops within several specific zoning districts.

The planning office brought the matter to the court because they say that some guidance would be appreciated when it came to language in the code.

Concerns about regulating out existing chicken owners and how to best word new regulations were voiced by commissioners. However, a consensus in the discussion began to form around banning roosters in certain circumstances to eliminate noise complaints.

Commissioners decided to table to discussion temporarily until Ms. Keifer could return with a draft ordinance and more information.

Staff writer Ian Gronau can be reached at 741-8272 or igronau@newszap.com.

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