Fowl play: Carolina Beach makes it legal to keep chickens is your source for free news and information in the Wilmington area.

James Wind's chickens in their pen. From left: Cleopatra, Beyonce and Khaleesi. Photo by Hannah Leyva.
James Wind’s chickens in their pen. From left: Cleopatra, Beyonce and Khaleesi. Photo by Hannah Leyva.

CAROLINA BEACH – It started as a way to provide healthier food for the family.

When Carolina Beach residents James and Dianne Wind got the news a few years ago that Dianne had cancer, the couple decided to rethink their diet and minimize the amount of chemicals they were consuming. One idea was to purchase chickens to provide fresh eggs for their family.

In the early months of 2015, James Wind built a 60-square-foot chicken coop and run in the fenced backyard of his home on the corner of 6th Street and Birmingham Avenue. The homemade enclosure, built out of wooden pallets, chicken wire and other materials that Wind found, was soon home to four egg-laying hens. Wind’s daughters named the two Americana hens Cleopatra and Khaleesi and the two Red Sexlink hens Beyonce and Nicki Minaj.

From May 2015 until a couple of months ago, when Nicki Minaj passed away in the coop, the four hens provided the family with fresh, light blue, light pink and light brown-colored eggs. For nearly a year, the Winds raised their chickens without any problems. Then, on March 5 of this year, they received a letter from the town — dated March 3 — that informed the Winds they were violating town code and needed to get rid of the hens.

“We have received complaints about chickens being kept at the referenced location,” the letter, signed by Carolina Beach Code Enforcement Officer Mark Hewitt, read. “It is against town ordinances to keep chickens within the jurisdictional limits of Carolina Beach (Chapter 3, Sec. 3-2). The chickens must be removed from the town.”

This confused James Wind, he said, since he had never had anyone complain to him, nor had he seen anything in the town code that banned his particular birds.

“I went about reading the ordinances in Carolina Beach,” Wind said. “I saw no prohibitions on chickens, but I saw one on ostriches.”

The code referenced in the letter stated it was unlawful for any animals “not considered a ‘commonly accepted domestic animal or fowl'” to be kept. Its definition “shall include generally accepted animals and fowl such as dogs, cats, caged birds, rabbits, miniature Vietnamese pigs, gerbils, hamsters, ferrets” and other animals such as turtles and nonpoisonous lizards. It specifically banned goats, sheep, ostriches, and snakes, among others.

According to Wind, he believes chickens to be “commonly accepted domestic animal or fowl” and that his chickens would also qualify as “caged birds,” since they live in a full enclosure. The Winds, who received the letter on a Saturday, called Hewitt on Monday and scheduled an in-person meeting on Thursday, March 10, to make their case.

However, on Tuesday, March 8, the Carolina Beach Town Council adopted code revisions during its regularly-scheduled meeting that included amendments to the section regarding the keeping of birds. The new code, which was not adopted until after the Winds received a letter saying they were in violation of it, specifically prohibited Wind’s hens.

The chicken coop and run built by James Wind in his Carolina Beach backyard. Photo by Hannah Leyva.
The chicken coop and run built by James Wind in his Carolina Beach backyard. Photo by Hannah Leyva.

“The term ‘commonly accepted domestic animal or fowl’ shall not include goats, sheep, pigs, hogs, cows, bulls, horses, mules, ostriches, chickens, ducks or geese or other similar types of large size animals and fowl or other reptiles or snakes, poisonous or nonpoisonous,” the ordinance adopted on March 8 read.

When the Winds met with town staff following the meeting, they pointed out the ambiguity of the old code. But, they were told that chickens had never been allowed in the town even though it was not explicitly written in the ordinances, James Wind said. They were then showed the new code, after which James Wind informed them he would be filing for a code change.

“I don’t think the town has a dominion over how I feed my family,” said Wind, who also maintains a beehive and blueberry patch in his backyard and is building a vegetable garden in his front yard. “I’m not building a commercial chicken house. I’m doing it on behalf of all the people that have them and all the people that want to have them.”

Wind said that other people on the island have had chickens for years, even longer than he has, and no issues had been raised until recently.

“This thing is just ridiculous. My birds don’t cause any harm to anybody. They’re happy,” Wind said, adding that he meticulously cleans the coop and treats his hens well. “The complaints that were received were not that the chickens were noisy, or smelled, or caused problems – it’s that I had them.”

From the time that Wind filed for a text amendment, he said the town worked with him to draft an ordinance that would allow for chickens, but also set rules and regulations.

The regulations include a minimum of 1,500 square-feet of land per hen, with a maximum of four birds per household. Roosters are banned.  The birds must be kept in an enclosed pen and in a coop that is fully contained; this must be located behind the main structure on a property. The use of the hens for commercial purposes is also prohibited.

The text amendment was presented before the Carolina Beach Town Council Tuesday night. During the public hearing, a handful of Carolina Beach residents, including others who currently own chickens, spoke in support of allowing the birds. No one spoke against them.

When Mayor Pro-tem Lee Ann Pierce asked Planning Director Ed Parvin about the complaints he received, he said that most of them were anonymous, and the only one he was able to follow up on did not have specific complaints, just that there were no regulations on keeping chickens.

Pierce and Councilman Gary Doetsch had concerns about whether allowing chickens would pave the way for allowing roosters, goats and other animals that are currently banned, but councilmen Steve Shuttleworth (who called himself “a little red rooster”) and Tom Bridges did not see that as future issue.

Fresh eggs laid by James Wind's chickens in Carolina Beach. Photo by Hannah Leyva.
Fresh eggs laid by James Wind’s chickens in Carolina Beach. Photo by Hannah Leyva.

“I don’t think that it’s something that’s going to change the landscape of our town just because we say OK,” Bridges said, adding that he doesn’t want to raise chickens himself. “The chickens have been here, now we’re going to regulate them … I just don’t think it’s an issue that we should jump on and say, ‘We shouldn’t do this.'”

Shuttleworth made a motion to accept the changes to allow chickens, adding friendly amendments that would limit the coops to single-family residences only and adjusting the maximum size of enclosures from 50 square feet to 60 square feet to allow Wind’s structure to remain as is.

Shuttleworth and Bridges voted in favor of the motion, while Pierce and Doetsch voted against it. Mayor Dan Wilcox, who said he didn’t feel “strongly on either side of the fence or chicken wire or whatever it is here,” cast the swing vote in the 3 – 2 decision to allow Wind and other Carolina Beach residents to keep their chickens.

“I just want to have my birds and live my life,” Wind said. “They’re useful pets. They provide food and entertainment for me. I can’t help but smile when I look at them.”