Back when I was a kid, my Uncle Mike bought my cousins some chicks for Easter.
Cute little things, but they crapped all over their little pen, and I never thought they would make the best pets anyway.

Well time passed, and the chickens grew to be full sized chickens. My uncle made a coop for them, so they could roam in the little 2 by 4 that we called a backyard, right next to Mrs. Beebee’s house.

She never complained. She was never home to complain, but my grandmother thought it strange when the dopey rooster of the bunch used to crow at 11 in the morning.
Still though, having a chicken coop in a Brooklyn backyard didn’t hold up too well; and eventually Uncle Mike did what anyone who has chickens in his backyard would do.

They wound up as dinner.

My cousins cried.

Would you allow chickens to be raised in an area that for all intents and purposes is fairly developed and congested? That’s the one problem a woman raising chickens in East Brunswick is having with her neighbors.

Irene Durbin's five pets, whom she simply calls "the girls," come when she calls. They sleep outside. Their bites barely hurt; just pecks, really.
And perhaps best of all? The little presents that they leave for her are edible. Durbin shares them with the neighbors, who gladly eat them up.

But the town of East Brunswick is making Durbin get rid of them. Why? Because the girls are chickens – and it's against town zoning law to have farm animals within 75 feet of another property.

For Durbin, buying the chicks for $3.50 each in May and watching them grow was part of an effort to stay away from processed foods. Close family members have suffered from cancer, and Durbin believes that additives and colorings in food could be playing a part in a health crisis.

Before buying the chicks, Durbin said she talked to a town official, who told her that she could have hens, as long as they were a few feet away from the nearest house.

But a neighbor complained. Durbin believes it's retribution for an unrelated, garden-variety feud with a neighbor, though that couldn't be confirmed. And it turns out that the town's zoning law actually requires 75 feet of space, not just a dozen – and not just 75 feet from the nearest dwelling, but 75 feet from the nearest boundary line.

Debra Rainwater, a town zoning official, said Durbin could apply for a variance, which would allow her to have the chickens even without the 75 feet of required space.

Rainwater said that chickens are becoming increasingly popular in the town, even as the nature of the town itself has changed.

In Durbin's suburban neighborhood Thursday, it was impossible to hear the girls in her back yard while standing in her front yard, at least not over the sound of three different dogs barking in the distance. Many people have misconceptions about the amount – and type – of noise that a chicken makes. But Durbin's hens, if not their hypothetical rooster counterparts, are quiet.

She'd like to see East Brunswick change its laws so that you can have six chickens on fewer than an acre of property, as long as there are no roosters and the coop is five feet away from the nearest boundary line. Five feet, she can swing. That's the law in Bloomsbury, in Hunterdon County.

She could also apply for the variance that Rainwater mentioned, but that will take time, money and input from her neighbors.

So if the mid-March deadline passes without the Town Council changing the law, the girls are headed to Hunterdon County, to live on a friend's farm, Durbin says.

Durbin lives a few miles from congenitally congested Milltown, but also not far from a farm and a convenience store that sells mulch and topsoil. Even closer than the farm and the convenience store, though, is a new residential development that is under construction.

"My time is running out," Durbin said. "It shouldn't matter where you live."

I can see chickens in rural Hunterdon County, but not in densely populated East Brunswick…variance notwithstanding.

How ‘bout you?

Should the chicken lady of East Brunswick be allowed to keep her chickens?

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