Chickens put on back burner

Columbus residents who keep chickens on their property within city limits will have to wait a little longer to learn if their animals must fly the coop.

The Columbus City Council has indefinitely delayed further discussion about an ordinance that would ban chickens within the city limits.

The council first tabled discussion about a proposed chicken ordinance for 90 days in November after listening to more than an hour of testimony from proponents of the measure who believe chickens can spread diseases and opponents who view their chickens as pets.

At that time, newly-elected council members Laurie Booher, Tom Dell and Elaine Wagner had not yet taken office, so the previous council members decided to delay further discussion or action until the new council members had a chance to review the issue.

Discussion was set to resume at the council’s next meeting Tuesday.

But members decided at the Feb. 2 meeting to delay it again until a subcommittee can review the existing rules and draft a new ordinance regarding chickens and other farm animals.

“We need to take the time to do it right and not rush through it,” councilman Frank Miller said at the Feb. 2 meeting. Miller serves on the subcommittee, along with fellow council members Dascal Bunch and Elaine Wagner.

Subcommittee members plan to work with city attorney Alan Whitted to study similar ordinances around the state and draft definitive rules regarding chickens and other farm animals within the city limits.

The council had asked former city attorney Jeff Logston to draft an ordinance dealing with regulations of chickens and other farm animals in November.

The ordinance Logston presented to the council was a hybrid of the animal regulation laws the city currently has in place, because municipal code does not deal specifically with farm animals, Logston said then.

The new wording of the ordinance had two lists of animals — one for domestic animals, including dogs and cats, and one for domestic farm animals. Chickens appeared on both lists, but the proposed ordinance change would prohibit any farm animal within city limits.

Miller said he would like to see the city draft an ordinance that is a comprehensive overhaul of all animal care rules, not just rules related to chickens. That process could take months, he said.

Council members first took up the issue of chickens as pets after Fred Barnett, the city’s code enforcement officer, cited two local families for violating a zoning ordinance that he said prohibited chickens within the city limits.

Two residents — Susan Bishop of Hillcrest Drive and Jessica Bostic of Ridgeway Drive — requested an exception to the ordinance, saying there was language in another animal control ordinance that classifies chickens as domestic animals.

Members of the Board of Zoning Appeals ultimately overturned Barnett’s decision in August, effectively deciding that all residents can keep chickens as pets for the time being.

Rules about chickens in Columbus

According to a 2008 ordinance amending the city’s civil code, chickens are classified as domestic animals, along with dogs and cats. The ordinance defines “pets” as any domestic animal kept for pleasure and not utility except cattle, horses, donkeys, pigs, sheep, goats, chinchillas or minks.

To read the ordinance, visit columbus.in.gov, select the “Animal Care Services” tab under “Departments,” and then select “Ordinances.”

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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.