Chester chickens must find new home

CHESTER -- Twenty-three hens need a home.

The black and white Barred Rock chickens belong to Chester's Stephen Hunter, the fedora-sporting guy who asked the Chester City Council last month to lift its ban on livestock inside the city limits.

As first reported at heraldonline.com Tuesday night, city leaders unanimously shot down Hunter's request at a special evening meeting.

"I'm very disappointed," Hunter said after the meeting.

Some city leaders worried that overturning the 13-year-old ordinance would open the floodgates to irresponsible livestock owners.

"I understand he takes good care of his chickens," said City Councilwoman Linda Tinker. "But when we change the ordinance, we change it for the entire district. ... It just opens the door for people that don't take care (of their animals)."

Officials also were concerned that if they did away with the ordinance and asked the city's planning commission to amend the zoning code, determining who could have which animals, would be complicated, not to mention the added burden of enforcing the new law.

Tinker said the city should stick by its ordinances. If the leaders don't adhere to the rules, she said: "We look like we've got egg on our face."

The livestock ban is the same one city leaders unsuccessfully tried to change last year to accommodate a potential homebuyer who wanted to keep horses at a barn inside city limits.

That attempt was scrapped after opposition from residents fearful of having farm animals in their neighborhoods. Their concerns led some City Council members to pull their support for a measure that would allow horses, cows, mules and other livestock in some areas of the city.

City leaders called Tuesday's meeting after Hunter told them of his plight last month.

His hens reside in a red tin-roofed chicken house behind his blue Victorian, the fourth house on the left past City Hall. He and his wife purchased the 2-acre lot five years ago with plans to restore the farmhouse and outbuildings, including the chicken coop.

As part of that restoration, he researched what type of chicken the original property owner kept in the henhouse. That's why Hunter, who serves on the city's historic preservation commission, bought the Barred Rock hens.

He also said his chickens lay about 15 brown eggs every day, and he gives most to a children's home in Rock Hill.

Hunter told The Herald in an interview last week that he had a friend outside the city who had offered to let him keep his chickens there. But Hunter would have to build a henhouse and travel to take care of the birds.

During Tuesday's meeting, Hunter told the council he would have to spend $3,000 to build a secure coop on his friend's land because of the dangers posed by neighborhood dogs.

"The part that bothers me more than anything is that I don't want to spend $3,000 to build another chicken house because I've got one in my backyard," he said after the meeting. He also wondered what he'd tell the kids at the children's home who will no longer be able to enjoy his eggs.

Hunter said he won't sell his chickens, but he would like to give them away to someone who will properly care for the birds.

Hunter has until March 10 to move his chickens outside city limits.