In terms of Columbus’ list of farm animals, Henny Penny just moved up in the pecking order.

City residents can keep chickens as pets — at least for now — under a ruling made by the Board of Zoning Appeals, which reviews property-owner requests for exceptions to the zoning ordinance.

After listening to more than two hours of testimony last week, the BZA reversed a decision made in spring by Fred Barnett, the city’s code enforcement officer.

Barnett had determined that chickens kept by Susan Bishop of Hillcrest Drive and by Jessica Bostic of Ridgeway Drive violated a local ordinance that classifies chickens as farm-related animals.

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However, both Bishop and Bostic told the board they kept the birds as pets in a strictly controlled environment that didn’t trouble most neighbors.

In addition, Bishop brought up language in a separate animal control ordinance that classifies chickens as domestic animals.

Assistant city planner Melissa Begley explained that there’s a difference between domestic and domesticated animals such as dogs and cats, but she said the reversal by the BZA essentially states that Barnett misinterpreted local regulations.

But by reversing Barnett’s decision, the board has created a new interpretation of chickens as pets that applies to all homes in Columbus, Begley said.

“This precedent is really scary,” BZA member Tony London said. “It goes beyond those chickens.”

Hannah Omar was the only board member who voted to uphold the original code-enforcement determination.

When BZA board member Dave Fisher made the motion to reverse Barnett’s decision, he said his intent was to urge the City Council to formally address the issue of chickens as pets within municipal ordinances.

Both Begley and city attorney Jeff Logston agree that is the proper place for the matter to be permanently addressed.

“The city would urge those making any decisions, one way or the other, regarding chicken ownership to first allow the City Council an opportunity to formally weigh in on the subject,” Logston said in a written statement.

For now, the city’s position is if the birds are kept as pets, they will be permitted. However, if they are kept in a manner consistent with how farm animals are maintained, they would not be permitted, Logston wrote.

After Logston released his statement, Bishop agreed with him that there needs to be an ordinance with guidelines.

“This is the path we were hoping for all along,” she said.

Barnett said he has received 14 complaints this year regarding chickens.

Logston said Barnett would continue to review and address complaints and work with owners to determine whether chickens are being kept as pets or farm animals.

Two other positions regarding last Tuesday’s determination were addressed by Logston.

The BZA’s decision does not apply to any other types of animals.

There is no established limit on the number of chickens that may be kept in the city as pets.

However, any person in Columbus who has five or more animals is classified as maintaining a kennel, which falls under a more restrictive set of guidelines, Begley said.

Some neighbors spoke on behalf of Bishop during last Tuesday’s meeting, as well as her chickens, which the Bishops have named Mira, Phantom, Calleigh and Cleo.

In fact, several board members commended Bishop for being a responsible pet owner.

Although nearly half of the 50-member audience cheered the outcome, others who supported Barnett’s original ruling — such as Nancy Treesh — just shook their heads.

“This is not a farm setting,” said Treesh, who lives a half-block from Bishop. “We have pride in our neighborhood. I don’t like the smell. I don’t like the clucking.”

In an earlier interview, Treesh’s husband, retired firefighter James Treesh, said Bishop’s birds are not allowed under a covenant of their homeowners association.

Bishop said she prefers not to comment on the covenant until after she has completed more research on the matter.

But Mike Robinette of Gilmore Street said he has kept chickens for four years without a complaint of noise or odor.

Columbus is not the first city in the area to address the matter of chickens in the neighborhood.

The Seymour City Council voted 5-2 in June to allow residents to keep small flocks of chickens in their backyards. The Seymour ordinance sets restrictions that deal with minimum space requirements and flock size, forbids noisy roosters and sets a $10 permit fee.

In Columbus, last week’s hearing marked the first appeal of a code enforcement officer’s ruling filed in five years, Begley said.

Seymour restrictions

Columbus Board of Zoning Appeals member Dave Fisher, who made a motion to overturn a code enforcement officer’s decision on whether chickens can be kept as pets in the city, said he wants the Columbus City Council to consider an ordinance that allows chickens as pets, such as the one passed June 22 by the Seymour City Council.

Restrictions in the Seymour ordinance include:

  • No more than six hens
  • No roosters, due to noise concerns.
  • A minimum space of 10 square feet per chicken. 
  • A requirement for residents to register their chickens with the city’s animal control officer and pay a $10 permit fee.

Columbus regulations on farm-related animals

The keeping of farm-related animals on any lot of less than 5 acres shall be prohibited within the city limits of the City of Columbus. Lots of 5 acres or greater shall be limited to a maximum of 5 farm-related animals, with any pens or other animal housing kept a minimum of 200 feet from all property lines.

Farm animals are animals commonly used for transportation, recreation, food, skins and other byproducts. Farm animals include but are not limited to horses, cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, mules, donkeys, miniature horses, miniature donkeys, camels, emus, ostrich, llamas, alpacas, rabbits, mink, fox, bison, chickens, turkeys, quail, pheasants and other animals or fowl of similar characteristics raised for similar purposes

Domestic animals are animals commonly used as household pets, protection, companions and for the assistance of disabled persons. Domestic animals include those that are cared for and treated in a manner generally acceptable for pet dogs, cats and birds. Domestic animals shall include but are not be limited to dogs, cats, parakeets, finches, spiders, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, rats, mice, rabbits, aquarium fish, ferrets and snakes — if cared for in the manner described above.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.