Council delays chicken-ban decision

A decision on whether fowl are too foul to be housed within city limits is being placed back in the incubator.

The Columbus City Council listened to more than an hour of public comment Tuesday about whether chickens should continue to be allowed within the city limits.

Some residents, who consider their chickens to be pets, believe the council’s consideration of an ordinance banning chickens from within the city limits would be like being forced to give up a pet dog or cat. Other supporters touted the health benefits of having chickens to provide fresh eggs for their family.

Others who oppose chickens in the city countered that they can spread disease and smell, create noise and reduce property values.

After hearing the comments, the city council decided to research other city ordinances around the state before continuing more discussion. Councilmen agreed to take up the issue in February, after three new members — Democrats Tom Dell and Elaine Wagner and Republican Laurie Booher — have taken office.

Council President Tim Shuffett had asked city attorney Jeff Logston to draft an ordinance about regulating chickens and other farm animals kept within the city limits. The city had found itself in a dilemma after Fred Barnett, the city’s code enforcement officer, cited two Columbus families in spring for a zoning ordinance violation for having chickens.

Susan Bishop of Hillcrest Drive and Jessica Bostic of Ridgeway Drive — who both live north of 25th Street on the city’s north side — requested an exception to the zoning ordinance to keep their chickens. Bishop brought up language in a separate animal control ordinance that classifies chickens as domestic animals.

In August, the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals overruled Barnett’s decision, effectively deciding that city residents could keep chicken as pets — at least for the time being.

The ordinance Logston brought back to the council was a hybrid of what the city currently has on its books, as the city does not address farm animals specifically in municipal code, Logston said.

The new wording of the ordinance has two lists of animals — one defining a domestic animal, which includes dogs and cats — and another defining a domestic farm animal. Chickens appear on both lists, but the ordinance change being proposed prohibits any domestic farm animal within the city limits.

One exception is that property of five acres or more and zoned agricultural would be allowed to have a domestic farm animal, Logston said. This exception was included to protect farmers who might have their property annexed into the city limits, he said.

In addition to chickens, other examples of domestic farm animals in the proposal were cattle, horses, donkeys, pigs, sheep, goats, mink, turkeys, geese, ducks, other fowl, emus, ostriches, llamas and alpacas. The ordinance also lists any other animals traditionally associated as livestock being raised for profit or commonly used for transportation, recreation, food, skins or other byproducts as being banned from the city limits.

Bill and Amber Porter of Columbus presented a slide show from a new organization formed in Columbus to support keeping chickens in town — Columbus Homeowners Initiative for Chicken Keeping, or CHICK.

Bill Porter said the organization, with about 50 Facebook followers, promotes responsible practices in backyard chicken keeping. Having chickens in a backyard coop provides a low-cost food source and food self sufficiency, he said. He contended that five to six chickens produce waste equal to the amount of an average dog, most of it produced at night, which can be easily cleaned up.

But opponents countered that chickens can spread histoplasmosis, an infection caused by breathing in spores of a fungus often found in bird and bat droppings.

Melinda Burton of Columbus, who attended the previous council meeting to protest the chickens, brought up salmonella as an issue, too.

Amber Porter said responsible practices call for chicken owners to be careful and wash their hands after handling chickens and eggs and to wear different shoes when entering the chicken coop.

“It’s part of being a responsible chicken owner,” she said.

The cost to the city again was brought up by those in the audience and the council.

Councilman Frank Miller estimated that if the city had to set up a permit process to inspect chicken coops in the city, the permits might have to be in the $250 to $300 range to offset city costs.

Based on about 200 households that might have chickens in the city, Miller said the cost to the city could be upwards of $50,000 to have one employee whose job would be to inspect chicken coops, approve permits and investigate complaints.

Other cities, including Bloomington, require property owners to obtain a permit and have annual inspections to ensure that animals and property do not become health hazards, Miller said. Some city ordinances limit the size of a chicken coop and number of chickens and where they can be placed on property.

Logston told council members that should they decide to ban chickens from the city limits, there would be no grandfathering to allow current chicken owners to keep their hens and roosters. The ban would go into effect with the passage of the ordinance.

Information on chicken proponents

To learn more about the Columbus Homeowner Initiative for Chicken Keeping, visit:

facebook.com/columbuschickenkeeping/?ref=stream

Read the ordinance

To read a copy of the proposed ordinance about chickens being kept within the Columbus City limits, go to the city of Columbus website at columbus.in.gov/

At the bottom of the page, click on documents. Then click on the Columbus City Council tab and then the 11-17-2015 meeting date. The proposed ordinance is among the documents for that meeting date.

Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.