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Backyard chicken ordinance fails. Councilman Weiner proposes compromise to protect civic association deed restricted communities - News Journal

Delaware law: Backyard chicken fight not a scratch
Hockessin woman vows to fight on despite County Council vote

Kathleen Hildebrand, the Hockessin woman who tried to get New Castle County to change its laws to allow small flocks of backyard chickens, is ready to ruffle more feathers.

County Council ended months of back and forth on the issue with a 10-3 vote Tuesday against an ordinance that would have permitted up to six chickens on a half-acre to one acre of residential land. The law currently outlaws farm animals on less than an acre.

Hildebrand, who keeps four hens in a tidy coop in the corner of her backyard, said she's not giving up.

She admonished council for failing to be progressive and recognize the trend of urban farming, a movement by city dwellers and suburbanites to grow their own food to ensure its healthfulness and live more sustainably.

Hildebrand suffers from health problems and keeps hens for their fresh, chemical free eggs. Her cause drew wide-ranging support from residents who believe in the idea, and from poultry specialists who confirmed the rising popularity of urban farming.

"It's incredibly unfortunate that they do not understand the scope of what I was looking for," Hildebrand said. "It's about everybody's right to pursue a healthy lifestyle and feel like the king and queen of their property."

Councilman Bill Tansey, who sponsored the ordinance on behalf of Hildebrand, voted yes along with councilmen John Cartier and Bill Powers.

Councilman Robert Weiner was one of the most vocal critics of the measure, presenting a two-page analysis of the ordinance that focused on the "unfunded mandate" it would bring to deed-restriction communities. Deed restrictions prohibiting the animals trump any county laws, and conflict over enforcement of deed restrictions could result in neighbors dragging each other to court, he said.

"I'm concerned about respecting the wishes of what I see as a split constituency," he said. "I'm not opposed to this concept. But I have a broad array of constituents to represent, and there are two competing public policies here."

Councilman Timothy Sheldon agreed, saying he e-mailed civic organizations within his district to get input. He received 105 responses against the ordinance and 29 in favor.

"I literally let my district vote on this ordinance because I did not have strong feelings on this," Sheldon said.

Ron Hildebrand, Kathleen's husband, said he believes opposing council members were posturing for election votes because the legislation drawn up by Tansey stated the change would not affect deed-restricted neighborhoods.

"We're all being held captive in the county because of a few neighborhoods with deed restrictions," he said. "They all seemed to be gathering around that."

Weiner said Wednesday he would be willing to sponsor a different version of the ordinance if the Hildebrands would reach out to state legislators. The Delaware Department of Agriculture  requires anyone keeping poultry to register with the state because of concerns about avian flu. Weiner wants the state to amend the application form to include a section in which residents signify they are not flouting deed restrictions.

The Hildebrands said they won't bother.

"I have no interest in people with deed restrictions," Kathleen Hildebrand said. "I'm appalled that they are considered the only citizens in New Castle County. Apparently, the rest of us are nothing."

So what's next for the Hildebrands' hens? The couple said they have no intention of removing the cluckers from their property.

"It's Oprah and Dr. Phil," said Kathleen, whose cause is garnering media attention.

Contact Angie Basiouny at 324-2796 or

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