WOODMERE — More than 20 people joined a public hearing last week to hear whether a family should be allowed to have a chicken coop. Mehtap and Daniel Akben have requested a special permit from the village to keep chickens at their home on Irving Park Avenue.
In April, Mr. Akben bought chicks for his three children, Ahmed, 11, Levent, 8, and Lina, 3. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the family had to spend more time at home, this served as a fun bonding activity, Mr. Akben said. The chickens lived inside the home until they grew up and now live in a makeshift chicken coop that Mr. Akben built in the backyard.
According to the village’s ordinances, residents are allowed to keep chickens with a special permit, so the Akbens applied for one. Village Council has the power to grant or deny the application following the public hearing on Oct. 1. Some residents are in support of the Akbens keeping their chickens, while others do not. Those against said that chickens have gotten loose on more than one occasion from the Akben coop.
“Right now with the pandemic, we have more time at home. We need an activity for the kids,” Mrs. Akben told the Times before the hearing. “The backyard is very private and hopefully we can keep them. They are a friend to my 3-year-old right now. This is a great experience for our kids.”
Sherri Simmons said the Akbens’ chicken flew the coop and ended up in her yard five or six times so far. She said that Mr. Akben has not followed through on his statements to put up a fence to keep the chickens on his property. Mrs. Simmons is now building her own fence to deter the chickens.
“How can you assure me, guarantee me, that I will not see your chickens in my yard again?” Mrs. Simmons asked. After going back and forth between Mrs. Akben and Mrs. Simmons during the hearing, Irving Park resident Shelley Ross brought up her own concerns.
Ms. Ross asked if the chickens need to be vaccinated. She said that the chickens have also been in her yard and feared for the safety of her dogs if the chickens carry diseases. By granting a permit for these chickens, Ms. Ross said the village may be opening a “Pandora’s box” for other farm animals, such as cows.
Council President Jennifer Mitchell Earley pointed out that the Akbens did not consult the Planning and Zoning Commission before building the structure to contain the chickens and did not submit all of the requested information prior to the public hearing, such as a drainage map for their property. Police Chief Sheila Mason said that there was one police report on June 30 about the chickens getting loose.
There were representatives from several organizations present to support the Akbens in keeping their chickens. President of Global Cleveland Joe Cimperman said that he knows the Akben family through the Turkish community.
“We’ve had the opportunity to work with families like the Akbens in other circumstances and are always here to provide support to the council of Woodmere and the village as well as this family to ensure that a quality of life and mutual community respect is kept,” Mr. Cimperman said.
Melaak Rashid is the co-founder and community outreach and development coordinator for Smart Development, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides services to residents of Cuyahoga County. She said that the Akbens want to be good neighbors but there may be language barriers and cultural differences. In the Middle East, she said, it is common to integrate animals into everyday life. Ms. Rashid said that she can offer the Akbens the necessary guidance to follow the village’s rules and keep the chickens.
Morgan Taggart, who worked with the Ohio State University Extension Cuyahoga County, has worked with communities to amend the zoning code to allow for chickens. She advised council that salmonella outbreaks are not common and chickens can be left outside in the winter. Ms. Taggart said that she can assist the Akben family in building a proper chicken coop.
Maplecrest Road residents David and Rachel Effron both voiced their support of the Akben family’s chickens. They said that they like seeing more of the natural world and do not want council members pitting longtime residents against new residents.
“I am really in favor of folks if they want to have a small garden at home or if they would like to raise a small amount of livestock, including chickens,” Mr. Effron said.
Roselawn Avenue resident Gladys Melvin said that she is in favor of the chickens. Although the Akbens may have made mistakes in the past, she said that they apologized and are now looking for permission and guidance to keep the chickens. Ms. Melvin said that a family of hawks lives near her residence, where she keeps a cat and dog, but expressed no concerns about wild animals attacking her pets.
Ms. Earley said that she would give the neighbors time to talk because it sounds like there was a miscommunication.