Cock-a-doodle-don’t

Bayonne council tables farm animal ban ordinance over pigeon provision

As members of the Bayonne City Council think twice about their proposed ban on the raising of farm animals in the city, a local keeper of homing pigeons apparently has persuaded them his birds should be an exception.

The City Council tabled the ordinance at its August 17 meeting during the public hearing. A final vote on the matter may happen at the next meeting of the City Council in September.

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Banning farm animals in the city

The ordinance would define farm animals to include, but no be limited to: “chickens, ducks, geese, pheasants, turkeys, quail, or other fowl, cows, goats, sheep, swine, horses, or cattle and such other animals as are typically raises on farms for domestic use.” The ordinance would also strictly prohibit said farm animals.

Per the ordinance, the breeding, keeping, harboring, raising, and or caring of farms animals would be “strictly prohibited within all zones including commercial and industrial property” within the city’s jurisdictional limits. The ordinance would also prohibit having other animals, such as the keeping, breeding, and raising of pigeons, on any property within Bayonne.

The ordinance would allow for some exemptions. Any resident breeding, keeping, harboring, raising and or caring for chickens and pigeons prior to the introduction of the ordinance, and who has registered with the Health Department, would be exempt until the registered animals are no longer living. Those residents would also need to comply with past practices related to chickens and pigeons.

Addressing rowdy roosters and messy chicken coops

Essentially, the ordinance would not ban residents who already own farm animals from keeping them, as long as they are registered. However, residents are now not able to own new farm animals, following the introduction of the ordinance.

The move follows two recurring problem areas in the city. In one instance, a rooster was causing trouble in one neighborhood. In another instance, a chicken coop has become a local eyesore.

As it turns out, the city does not have an ordinance that bans owning roosters and or chickens, which can be irritating to residents. Many municipalities, even those which permits residents to have farm animals, often ban roosters for reasons easily imaginable.

At the same time, the city did not have an ordinance on the book prohibiting the keeping of pigeons. Now this ordinance seeks to close the loophole and prohibit noisy roosters and the visually displeasing chicken coops, as well as pigeon ownership.

Bayonne’s last homing pigeon owner?

The ordinance was introduced in July, and seemingly set to pass in August. However, one resident’s heartfelt plea was enough to have the council reconsider things for now.

Resident John Baginski is an accountant who lives on West 15th Street. He is also the last person in Bayonne to care for homing pigeons.

“I was at the Health Department last week and I understand that I am the last remaining homing pigeon member in good standing with the city,” Baginski said. “I’ve had pigeons in my family on 15th Street for over 68 years, as long as I’ve been alive.”

According to Law Director Jay Coffey, Baginski is not banned from owning homing pigeons under the ordinance, and is in fact grandfathered in.

“If you are currently properly licensed, because the existing ordinance has been on the books for many, many years, under that ordinance you have to have written consent of all the neighbors within 75 feet of your property,” Coffey said. “So if someone is legally maintaining poultry or farm animals, whatever, with the consent of their neighbors and that’s on file with us, they will be grandfathered in and this will not apply to them. We can’t apply an ordinance retroactively. So those individuals will still be free to have their chicken coops, pigeons or whatever. If they’re not legal, however, it doesn’t.”

“I know some neighbors have a chicken here and there that they grandfathered in,” City Councilman At-Large Juan Perez said.

John Baginski addressed the Bayonne City Council at its August meeting. Photo by Daniel Israel.

A bygone hobby of days past

Baginski’s family has been taking care of homing pigeons for as long as he can remember.

“I took over the birds in 1964, when my brother went to Vietnam,” Baginski said. “Since then, I’ve been living here.”

The hobby used to be more prevalent back in the day.

“When I was younger, around 10 to 11 years old, I used to help with all of the pigeon coops for all the guys in Bayonne, we had about 40 guys at the time,” Baginski said. “These pigeons are just phenomenal. They come back from 600 miles away. It’s just a great hobby.”

While it is dying out in Bayonne and even Hoboken, according to Baginski, the practice of keeping homing pigeons lives on elsewhere, such as Jersey City.

“It’s more popular in other parts of New Jersey, and Florida with all of the retired people,” Baginski said. “The younger generation just aren’t getting involved, but it’s a great sport… I’m here really representing the people that gave me this hobby when I was a young kid. It kept me off the streets.”

Baginski noted that he has not received any complaints from neighbors. He has owned the homing pigeons since childhood, having attended various functions and being a member in good standing in homing pigeon clubs in Hoboken, Lyndhurst, and North Bergen.

“I haven’t had any complaints, and I checked with the city with the health department,” Baginski said. “I filed my registration of the birds… I’ve had my birds since grammar school, giving presentations all my life with the birds… I just feel that these birds should be removed from this ordinance.”

Homing pigeons versus feral pigeons

Homing pigeons are domesticated messenger pigeons, as opposed to wild pigeons. According to Baginski, these homing pigeons are different from the wild pigeons that live in the park.

“The problem is, down at 16th Street Park there’s like 150 of what I would call rat pigeons, because that’s what they are, rats with wings,” Baginski said. “Everybody feeds them, and they think they’re my birds… My birds are clean… This bird won a race that includes 360 miles in seven hours, 52 miles per hour.”

Baginski continued: “I understand birds are filthy, especially this time of the season since they are molting, but I have eight swimming pools in my neighborhood that’s surrounding. I ask all the time if there is any problem or any complaints to let me know. Everyone’s fine with it. When I was a kid, there were four pigeon coops on the 15th and 16th Street and Avenue A and Kennedy Boulevard area.”

Baginski brought with him many printed pictures of his homing pigeons, his coops, and other pigeon owners, to demonstrate that this bird is different from wild pigeons.

“My coop is basically condo,” Baginski said. “It’s really clean. It’s got skylights and everything.”

Baginski keeps 100 homing pigeons, which participate in various events and things.

“There’s a lot of good from these birds,” Baginski said. “There not a farm animal, they haven’t been bred for farm purposes.

City Councilman At-Large Loyad Booker and Second Ward City Councilwoman Jacqueline Weimmer address issues at the August meeting of the Bayonne City Council. Photo by Daniel Israel.

Excluding the pigeon provision?

Baginski was addressing the council in hopes of amending the provision in the ordinance regarding pigeons.

“I understand that I’m grandfathered,” Baginski said. “I’m just confused as to why this amendment is including pigeons as farm animals. The homing pigeon is a phenomenal animal.”

According to Baginski, homing pigeons are not farm animals and should not be regulated as such.

“I understand there’s issues with other types of animals in town and all, but again what I’m trying to do is reach out to all of the former members that were in Bayonne. I think it should be amended, then excluded from a treatment for a farm animal.”

Baginski said that the city ordinances make it hard to get into the hobby of keeping homing pigeons.

“The thing is, if younger people wanted to have pigeons, you still have ordinances that make it really hard to put a coop up,” Baginski said. “You need consent from everybody within 75 feet. All you need is one person to say no and they can’t have it.”

Former city employee and outspoken resident Gail Godesky echoed Baginski that homing pigeons are different from wild pigeons and should not be included in the ordinance associated with farm animals.

“Homing pigeons are totally different than the pigeons we see on the street,” Godesky said. “I would recommend that you postpone and take care of Mr. Baginski.

Council postpones ordinance vote

City Council President Gary La Pelusa then proposed the idea of postponing the measure for until September.

“Maybe we could carry this until next month if the council is okay with that,” La Pelusa said. “We can revisit this with the Health Department. If everybody is okay, maybe that provision can be excluded.”

Baginski was happy to hear the consideration, and joked that he’s glad he didn’t have to bring legendary boxer Mike Tyson with him: “I had the opportunity to meet Mike Tyson. At one time he had pigeons in Jersey City. So I was going to bring him here to fight it out.”

La Pelusa praised the way Baginski raised his homing pigeons: “I wish more people were as clean with the animals as you.” City Councilman At-Large Loyad Booker added: “I understand and appreciate the education about birds. I see them all the time around town.”

“I can tell you Mr. Baginski, what prompted the drawing up of this ordinance wasn’t you or your pigeons,” Coffey said. “Maybe we want to talk with the Health Department about, maybe having a separate application for pigeons as opposed to other birds.”

Baginski thanked the City Council for hearing him out regarding homing pigeons. He also asked to help revise the ordinance, to which Coffey said Baginski can email him suggestions to add to it.

The ordinance will now be up for a vote in September. The Bayonne City Council will meet next on September 21 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 630 Avenue C. For more information, go to bayonnenj.org.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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