From the front, Ron Heavner’s Middletown home looks like any other.
It is situated on a quiet cul-de-sac near Middletown Park, but behind Heavner’s home, a wooden chicken coop takes up part of the back yard near where Taco, Speedy and Chunky peck at the ground beneath a row of pine trees.
Middletown’s burgess and commissioners are considering whether to allow property owners such as Heavner to have chickens.
In a few months, the birds will be old enough to start laying eggs, and they help aerate the yard and control bugs at Heavner’s house on Gray Fox Court.
He said his family gardens and likes to shop at local farmers markets when they get a chance.
“We like to get fresh [food] whenever we can,” he said.
The family’s dog has mixed feelings about the chickens.
“She tolerates them, but she stays over there and the chickens stay over here,” he said, waving his arm toward the house.
The dog isn’t the only one not pleased about the birds.
Jack Rieser, who lives behind Heavner on Caroline Drive, told the burgess and commissioners Monday he’s concerned about the effects the birds will have on property values, as well as possible health effects from chicken waste.
Rieser said he’s noticed an odor from the birds, and said they attract flies and rats.
Chicken droppings also can grow a fungus that can cause respiratory problems and other health issues, particularly in children, seniors and people with weakened immune systems, he said.
If the town allows chickens, it could lead to more families having them, and become a serious problem.
“It’s a slippery slope,” Rieser said.
Heavner got four fertilized eggs in the spring from a woman in Mount Airy who raises Rhode Island Reds.
One of his two daughters has taken several agriculture classes at Middletown High, and together they built the chicken coop. They also built an incubator from an old styrofoam cooler, using it to hold the eggs until they hatched.
But when the chicks arrived, Heavner discovered three of them were roosters and their crowing soon drew a notice from the town that chickens were not permitted.
Heavner took the three roosters to a farm in Wolfsville, but kept Taco, and soon bought Speedy and Chunky to keep her company.
Heavner agrees roosters have no place in residential communities, but said he doesn’t see any problem with chickens, which make little noise. He questioned the town’s regulations as being vague.
The town attorney looked at the code and didn’t find anything that prohibited keeping chickens as property as long as they’re not part of a business, said town administrator Drew Bowen.
There currently are three properties that the town knows of as having chickens, he said.
Thurmont, New Market and Walkersville currently allow residents to keep chickens, although Walkersville requires properties with the birds to be zoned for agricultural use, according to a memo prepared for the burgess and commissioners by Middletown staff.
Thurmont requires properties with chickens to keep them securely fenced or enclosed to prevent escapes.
New Market allows as many as four birds per single-family home, but prohibits roosters or slaughtering the birds on site. The birds must be kept in a secured area and at least 25 feet from the nearest neighbor’s home.
Heavner, retired as a scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said he’ll likely take the birds to the Wolfsville farm that took his roosters if he’s forced to get rid of them.
But for now, he likes to watch the three chickens as he drinks his morning coffee.
“They are hilarious to watch,” he said.