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An open letter to the City of Huntsville Planning Commission

An open letter to the City of Huntsville Planning Commission

Rebecca Goodwin
Huntsville resident, chicken fan.


Dear Planning Commission members,

I was witness to your vote of ‘No’ on the Urban Chicken ordinance Tuesday night. I didn’t speak during the public hearing, the experts and other members of the community stated all the salient points that needed to be addressed. So, I figured I wouldn’t bore you with my own personal plea. But, due to the fact the ‘Nay’ votes were all obviously made along very personal preferences and biases, and since you chose to ignore the support and recommendations of the experts in the room, I will choose to make this personal as well.

I am an Army brat who after years away at school and 8 years working in the entertainment industry in New York City decided to move back home to Alabama in search of a simpler way of life. I work for my family’s locally owned government contracting business. I met my husband here, a New Hampshire farm boy who works in IT security out on Redstone Arsenal. We are by many measures your typical Huntsville 30-something couple trying to carve out a life for ourselves here in the Rocket City. We own a home in the community of Westlawn, a hidden gem of a neighborhood full of 1940s era bungalows and cottages. In our small backyard, we have a 600 square-foot garden where we grow our own vegetables all year long.  

It is worth noting that my existing garden is bigger than my apartment was in New York.  

I mention that only because one of the hard realities I had to face when moving back to Alabama was how much more difficult it was to obtain the fresh, locally grown and produced food to which I had become accustomed.  Ironic, right? In our country’s largest metropolitan area farmers markets were to be found year-round in every neighborhood…rich and poor. But here, in our highly agriculturally rich state, my options are incredibly limited. The lovely Green Street Market is the closest to my home, but its short hours make it difficult to get to, and quite honestly the times I have gone, the actual fresh produce seemed outweighed by other things such as wood-fired pizzas and arts and crafts.

So what is a sustainably-minded Huntsville citizen to do? Grow a garden, obviously. Shop at Earth Fare, okay. But what if we want more? What if we want fresh eggs? Fresh eggs that we know with 100% certainty have been treated humanely and are fed organically because these eggs come from chickens in our own backyard? Well, according to you, John Olshefski, Kimberly Battle, Anthony Antonios, Sharon Tyson, Peggy Richard, Gary Whitley, Jeffery Rice and Janet Watson… we should move to the county.

But why? Why would any city organization encourage productive members of their society to move out of it?  My husband and I live where we choose to because being a part of a vibrant city life is as important to us as living a sustainable one. Could we afford to move to the county? Probably. But why should we have to do that in order to be given the right to use the property we own to feed ourselves? Surely it can’t be out of fear of disease, noise, smells or chickens running rampant in our city streets? Tuesday night, experts from the Health Department, The Cooperative Extension service, and Animal Services all addressed these concerns and declared them non-issues along with their support of the ordinance.

No, with your vote, you are telling us that we should move out of our home and find a new one because you don’t personally like the idea of chickens.  Because you can’t see past your own noses far enough to see how this could benefit your fellow city residents. Because you deem a decades old existing ordinance that by design eliminates responsible ownership of backyard chickens for a majority of residents within the city limits as “good enough.”

You, Peggy Richard, a realtor who worried about potentially losing a home sale to somebody’s backyard chicken coop.

You, Kimberly Battle, who didn’t want chickens in your own small yard and by the bored and baffled look on your face didn’t seem interested in understanding why anyone would want to in the first place.

You, Sharon Tyson, who told us all how much you loved the fresh backyard eggs you have eaten from your own brother’s chickens, but hypocritically deny the right of your fellow citizens to enjoy a similar experience.

You, John Olshefski, who DOZED OFF during the public hearing and didn’t offer one word of discussion on the topic.

You, and the other Nay voting members of this un-elected commission, you as members of our city government are meant to exercise what would be best for the people, not what would be best for yourselves. Chickens may not be what you would personally want, and that’s completely understandable and fine, but it is your job to look beyond your own concerns and needs. And the fact that you so blatantly did the exact opposite of this is just wrong…and sad.

 I personally believe that the endless sprawl of sub-divisions into existing farmland is horrifying when so many beautiful homes in the city center remain neglected and empty. But, I understand that some people like McMansions and suburban sprawl, so…fine.  You didn’t hear any argument from me when you approved NINE new developments Tuesday night without so much a word of discussion or a batted eyelash.

 So, okay…. maybe we will move out of the city and take our tax dollars with us. I don’t expect any of you care. We are just two anonymous, normal people.  But, we won’t be the only ones.  Refuse to believe it or not, for many Huntsville families, this IS a deal-breaker issue. No chickens…no tax money.

 In the State of Alabama constitution it states, “The sole object and only legitimate end of government is to protect the citizen in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property, and when the government assumes other functions, it is usurpation and oppression.” That’s all any of we supporters of the ordinance are trying to do… just that, enjoy our life, liberty, and property in a healthy, sustainable, and responsible way. Ordered with no judgment and no oppression and two eggs, over-easy on the side.

Rebecca Goodwin

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