Pictured above – Timmy Koukoumis holds a rooster which he keeps in his yard on Larkin Place in the Oakhurst section of Ocean Township.
By JOSEPH SAPIA
A game of chicken is being played in Ocean Township and, so far, no one is backing off.
The conflict basically surrounds the 15 Rhode Island Reds – one rooster and 14 hens — and their pen and attached coops at the Koukoumis family home at 395 Larkin Place in the Oakhurst section of the township.
The specifics: Zoning Officer Jerome P. Donlon says the poultry and their home are farm animals, a violation of township zoning in the residential area. The Koukoumis family maintains they are simply pets just like the dogs in the township and not farm animals.
“We went to all our neighbors and made them aware,” said Timmy Koukoumis, 35.
“They’re all OK with it,” said Koukoumis’ brother, Angelo, 32.
But the township is not OK with it.
“The facts are this is going before the (township) Zoning Board of Adjustment,” said Marianne Wilensky, the township’s director of Community Development.
Technically before the board is an appeal, on the Koukoumis family’s behalf, of Donlon’s decision, Wilensky said.
The matter is on the board’s agenda tonight, March 13, at 7:30 p.m. at the Municipal Building, Wilensky said.
But the Koukoumis family disagrees on two of Wilensky’s points: One, the family says, this is not an appeal, because an appeal implies a guilty verdict of some kind. And, two, because the Koukoumis family did not take out a legal advertisement announcing the meeting and the issue, along with formally notifying neighbors within 200 feet. The family says their case is postponed.
No, said Wilensky, the family can seek a postponement, but had not done so as of Tuesday afternoon. So, the family is expected at the meeting unless a postponement is granted, Wilensky said.
The disagreement over the zoning board hearing is representative of the conflict that goes back to October, when Donlon first notified the family of how he interpreted the zoning. Actually, though, the story goes back about a year, when the Koukoumis family says it brought the 15 poultry, too small to determine males or females, to the half-acre directly across from Boy Scout Troop 71, near West Park Avenue.
Angelo Koukoumis got the idea for the chickens as an extension of the garden he has kept for six years. The family wants eggs from the naturally living, or “free range,” chickens, Angelo Koukoumis said.
The family also considers the poultry pets, Timmy Koukoumis said. He said they are “not for meat, slaughter.”
Timmy Koukoumis compared the birds with pet dogs.
“You can hardly hear the chickens,” Timmy Koukoumis said.
If one calls his poultry farm animals, then, a dog, too, is a farm animal, Timmy Koukoumis said.
The rooster crows about 10 times, “then, stops for hours, about three times a day,” Angelo Koukoumis said. The family even puts the rooster in the garage.
“We didn’t know we had a rooster (until it grew),” Timmy Koukoumis said.
Otherwise, the poultry live in a 12-foot by 10-foot chicken run, a wood-frame pen covered with chicken wire and a fiberglass roof, with two doghouse-like coops attached. The family notes the pen is on wheels and can be moved, not a permanent building.
“We clean it,” Angelo Koukoumis said.
There essentially was no scent when a reporter visited earlier this week.
The chicken manure is composted and used in the garden, Angelo Koukoumis said.
In October, or months after the poultry came to the property, the family first heard from the township. The family suspects someone affiliated with a neighborhood property tipped off the township.
In an Oct. 21 letter, Donlon sent a violation notice to Timmy Koukoumis and his sister, Georgia, 41, the owners of the property. Timmy Koukoumis lives in Holmdel, but living on the property, which the family has owned since 1986, are Georgia and Angelo, along with their mother, Eva.
Donlon informed them they have an accessory building (the chicken run and coops) that was never reviewed by the township and does not have its approval.
“You are required to remove the chicken coop and chickens,” the letter says. “Failure to comply will result in more formal action being taken.”
The family was to comply within five days or face a summons to appear in Municipal Court. Fines of up to $1,250 per day or, instead, imprisonment or community service of up to 90 days were possible, according to the notice.
The matter, though, has gone back and forth since – basically under appeal, according to the township. Because the Koukoumis family does not like the connotation of an appeal, the matter is more an unresolved disagreement.
“We’re not hiring a lawyer,” said Timmy Koukoumis, who works with his brother, Angelo, in a family construction business. “No need to hire a lawyer. We’re doing this ourselves.”
Timmy Koukoumis also said, “It’s not like I have snakes and reptiles.”