by A.C. Hall
A citizen’s fight to keep chickens on her property has gained attention in recent weeks, even appearing on a local network news broadcast. Lea Wiltfong and her family live on Wyatt Drive, and she spoke to council hoping to get them to allow her to bring back the chickens the city removed. The chickens were removed because they were housed in a way that isn’t allowed by the city. Chickens must be kept 50 feet away from any occupied building, and the coop on the Wiltfong property doesn’t meet that requirement.
Wiltfong told the council that the reason she is fighting so hard to bring the chickens back is because of her daughter Nicole. Nicole suffers from cerebral palsy as well as other illnesses, and Wiltfong said that although many might find it hard to understand, the chickens were a therapy animal for her daughter.
“She interacted with these chickens on a daily basis,” Wiltfong said.
Several pieces of information were given to the council by Wiltfong that she said provided support of her stance that chickens can be a therapy animal. She also said removal of the chickens has caused further problems for her daughter.
“Since the chickens have been removed from the property, Nicole has had several severe mental breakdowns that have led to us having to take her to an emergency appointment where they had her put on antidepressants,” Wiltfong said. “I now have a medicated ten-year-old child that previously, due to the mental and emotional balance provided by her pet chickens was able to cope with daily life on a reasonable level.”
She also went on to say that the removal of the chickens has caused her daughter to start having trouble in school.
Several council members voiced their hope they can help out in the situation.
“We’re here to help you, not hinder you, if we can,” council member Elzie Clements said.
Wiltfong stated that all she required was a small variance to the 50 feet requirement to make their situation work. City Manager Linda Ryan joined in the conversation, pointing out that special exceptions can’t be made to this ordinance, and instead the entire ordinance would have to be changed.
Council members were in possession of a series of Facebook posts that Wiltfong made in the last year, and council members Danny Anderson and Steve Ott questioned her about these posts. Anderson asked if Wiltfong was selling any of the chickens and she said she was not. He then pointed to several of her Facebook posts where she listed prices and asked people to buy chickens. Wiltfong then changed her answer, saying she did offer some for sale but not to make income, just to make money for feed. She also stated that although she tried, none of the chickens ever sold.
More inconsistencies were pointed out later, when Ott questioned Wiltfong about the number of chickens she had. Earlier, Wiltfong had stated they stayed within the rule of only having six chickens, but Ott pointed to Facebook posts Wiltfong made that spoke about having far more than six chickens. She said those higher numbers included baby chicks in addition to full grown chickens, and that she wasn’t aware the babies counted towards the allotted amount of six.
The presence of python snakes on the premises was also discussed. Wiltfong was surprised to learn that pythons are not allowed in the city. She stated that she will get rid of them.
Ways to change the ordinance and help Wiltfong were discussed. Council members appeared in favor of allowing one or two chickens for the purpose of therapy chickens, but there was some concern that this would open up the new ordnance for abuse from anyone in the city. The City Attorney also pointed out that there are many professionals who don’t believe chickens are a therapy animal, saying it might not be advisable to use such language in any changes to the ordinance.
This was on the agenda as a presentation item so council could take no action. However, Clements told Wiltfong that council will try to figure out the issue. She indicated that whatever restrictions were put in place she would follow.
Council unanimously approved a three year oil and gas lease agreement with a Chesapeake leasing agent on a few small pieces of city land. The city received $2500 per acre and twenty five percent royalties for three years.
Clements voiced concerns about possible withheld royalties that the city has been working to get out of Chesapeake for past agreements.
“The audit firm we hired is finding stuff left and right,” Ryan said. “We’re working on them.”
Further discussion indicated that one reason Chesapeake hadn’t paid out on some leases is because the correct paperwork wasn’t filed. The City is currently working with an audit firm that will continue to look into money owed to the city by Chesapeake.
A property owner was attempting to donate their property at 212 North Roe Street to the city’s Economic Development Corporation, but one council member was critical of the proposition.
“When’s the last time we sold a piece of property and made any money off of it?” Clements asked. He spoke critically about the city’s track record of making any money off of properties, as well as the area in which the house on Roe Street is in. One of Clements main concerns was the high cost of demolition on properties such as these.
EDC Director Jim Ryan responded to his concerns, saying sometimes profits had to be sacrificed in order to make a better city.
“We have a better place to live today in White Settlement than we did five years ago when we weren’t tearing things down,” Jim Ryan said. “There are some buildings that have come down that needed to come down.”
The City will be required to pay back taxes on the property in the amount of $1200, but some of that money will come right back to the city. Ryan also indicated his belief that they’ll be able to sell the lot for $7000 to $8000. Council voted 4 to 1 to approve the donation, with Clements voting against.
Council voted unanimously to place Dusty Pulliam into a vacant spot on the Planning and Zoning board. Pulliam was previously a member of the Parks and Recreation board.