City council considering ban on homing pigeons, changes to chicken-keeping

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The July 21 meeting will be the only City Council Meeting in July. The next scheduled meeting is Tuesday, August 4.
Wilmington City Hall.

An ordinance that would ban the keeping of pigeons within Wilmington city limits could be passed at Tuesday night’s council meeting.

The issue of keeping poultry on residential property was first brought to council last fall, when a dispute between neighbors – one who kept chickens and one who kept homing pigeons – came to the attention of city code enforcement officers. The current code regulates the keeping of chickens and bans other “domestic fowl” but does not specify what falls under that category. The language of the new ordinance replaces “domestic fowl” with “poultry” and lists in that category chickens and pigeons as well as ducks, geese, pea fowl, turkeys and others.

“I know this came up last time. There was a question – ‘Are pigeons poultry’?” Councilman Kevin O’Grady said Monday during an agenda briefing. “Are we satisfied we have a clear enough definition here?”

“The definition that we’re using here is from the general statutes,” said the city’s Chief Code Enforcement Officer Williane Carr. “So rather than just use the definition from the dictionary, we thought it should be in line with the general statutes. It includes pigeons in that definition.”

When the council was first asked to amend the ordinance last fall, O’Grady asked staff to separate homing pigeons into a separate category and bring back a zoning change for council to decide on. He and former Councilwoman Laura Padgett had concerns about raising pigeons in a city that is rapidly growing.

“We’re an urban area, and raising large numbers of homing pigeons in an urban area is not a very good idea,” O’Grady said at that October meeting.

“I just can’t see putting this into an urban environment where people are living close together and putting that risk out there,” said Padgett then, citing health concerns about the potential diseases pigeons could spread. “It’s just not the right thing to do for a city that’s becoming denser and more urban.”

Councilman Charlie Rivenbark disagreed, saying they were regulating a non-existent problem.

“I’ve never had one person call me up in almost 16 years on this council … about the pigeon problem, because there isn’t one,” Rivenbark said in October.

Though the new amendment to the ordinance, if passed, would make the keeping of homing pigeons illegal, the two city residents who currently keep them will be grandfathered in and allowed to continue as long as they registered with the city within six months and obey the regulations regarding poultry.

“The proposed amendment achieves city council’s directive in a way that protects existing pigeon-keeping uses while preventing this type of use from expanding within the city limits,” states a document from city staff that supports the changes.

The current statute states that domestic fowl must be kept in a secure enclosure on a lot under single ownership that is at least 20,000 square feet in size. Each enclosure must have at least 10 square feet of space per fowl, and no more than 20 birds are allowed per acre of property. The enclosure must also be at least 25 feett from the nearest property line and 100 feet from the nearest residence.

However, that could change. An accompanying ordinance amendment, if approved Tuesday night, would reduce the minimum lot size required to 15,000 square feet under single control, and the enclosure could be within 10 feet of any property line or 25 feet of a residence. It would also limit the number of female birds allowed to five (roosters would be banned).

A public hearing on both the ordinance amendments will be held during Tuesday night’s meeting, which starts at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall’s Council Chambers. A full meeting agenda can be viewed here.