LOWER TOWNSHIP — The moment of reckoning was coming: Bill Lyman had to tell his daughter the chickens must go.
Brianna Lyman, a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Charles W. Sandman Consolidated School, would receive the news when she got off the school bus Tuesday afternoon.
Brianna spent the past two years raising the chickens as part of a 4-H project. She was hoping to show them this year and maybe win a prize. That was before a neighbor complained.
Bill Lyman had a Notice of Violation from the township Code Enforcement Office dated Sept. 29. He had been sitting on the notice, not wanting to break the news.
The notice said he needed a minimum of one acre to keep farm animals. The 75-by-100-foot lot on Wayne Avenue in North Cape May came up way short. The notice gave him until Oct. 9 to find a home for Marie, a Rhode Island Red, and Sharon, a Black Silkie. Not removing the birds would subject him to fines of as much as $300 a day.
“I haven’t told my daughter yet. We’re trying to teach her about agriculture, but we’re going to have to withdraw her from 4-H because she’ll have no chickens to show,” Lyman said.
That moment arrived a few hours later — with a big, yellow school bus. Brianna, a member of the Milky Way 4-H Club, was told the news.
“When I heard I had to get rid of them, I was in shock mode,” Brianna said. “I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to get rid of them because I raised them as little chicks. Every day, I got home from school and held them. I didn’t want to get rid of them — ever.”
This is the second such case recently of the township forcing the removal of chickens from a residential area. Last week, Claire Nagel, an 80-year-old Shore Drive resident, had to remove her six chickens.
The common thread is a complaint from a neighbor. Lyman said he pleaded with Code Enforcement Officer Walt Fiore, who gave him more time to find a home for the chickens, but told him once somebody complains the law has to be enforced.
Township Manager Mike Voll said the township supports 4-H but the problem was the chickens were getting loose and rooting around a neighbor’s yard.
“If they kept them cooped up, this guy wouldn’t have said a word. Now, it’s become public and we have to deal with it, and its being enforced by code enforcement,” Voll said.
Lyman, a paramedic with AtlantiCare, whose wife Danielle is an EMT with the Lower Township Rescue Squad, admitted the chickens were getting out of the yard but said he addressed the problem by putting up chicken wire.
Lyman said he plans to join a grass-roots movement started by Nagel to get the law changed so homeowners can keep chickens on residential lots. This is allowed in neighboring Middle Township.
“There is a grow-your-own foods thing going on. We grow our own vegetables, and I’ve taught Brianna about fishing and crabbing. Brianna will never forget having chickens when she was young. If she becomes an executive in New York or Philadelphia, she’ll still have that rural background,” Lyman said.
But backyard chickens aren’t just rural anymore. It’s actually become a trend even in cities as people worry about chemicals in store-bought eggs and seek food security in troubled times.
Louise Sugar — whose daughter is in the same 4-H club and has agreed to take in Brianna’s chickens — said chickens are allowed in New York City and Chicago.
“People all over the country with backyard chickens are fighting local ordinances,” Sugar said.
Brianna said the 4-H club meets once a week, and they learn all about chickens and other farm animals.
“When the time comes, after one year of meetings, you get to show one chicken or, if you’re 12, you can show two,” Brianna said.
Her little brother, 2-year-old William, runs out every morning to get the eggs. Brianna cooks them and says she makes the best scrambled eggs in the family.
“We use them at Easter, too,” Brianna said.
She could still visit her chickens if they go to Sugar’s property, which is big enough for chickens, but Lyman said he plans to get the 4-H club to join Nagel’s fight. Like Nagel, he said he could have pursued a variance but it was too expensive.
“We’re just a little family starting out. We have a little house. We can’t afford a lawyer to get a variance. This was a positive (experience) for our child, and now she’s out of a hobby,” Lyman said.
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