Council: chickens as pets reason to Cry fowl?

Council members aren’t chickening out on the issue of farm animals in the city limits.

Columbus City Council President Tim Shuffett has asked for a draft of an ordinance about regulating chickens and other farm animals kept within the city limits.

The city found itself in a dilemma after Fred Barnett, the city’s code enforcement officer, cited two Columbus families last spring for a zoning ordinance violation for keeping chickens within the city limits.

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 ruling that city residents could keep chicken as pets — at least for the time being.

Assistant city planner Melissa Begley explained then that there was a difference between domestic and domesticated animals such as dogs and cats. But the BZA decision effectively created a new interpretation that chickens could be considered pets for homes in Columbus, she said.

While chickens got the issue started, other farm animals could fall under the proposed ordinance, including goats, donkeys, cattle, horses and pigs, said Councilman Frank Miller, who has been researching other city ordinances around the state.

Keeping wild animals within the city limits also might need to be addressed, Miller said.

Council members acknowledged that allowing chickens or other types of farm animals within the city limits will create costs for the city.

Other cities, such as Bloomington, require property owners to obtain a permit and have annual inspections to ensure the animals and the 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.

The city would have to determine the cost of having animal care services monitor the permit holders and the staffing needed to do that, Miller said. Annual permit costs might have to be in the $250 to $300 range to offset city costs, he said.

And there’s the question of just how many chickens are in the city now, Miller said.

“Probably more than we know about,” he said. “I know about quite a few.”

If the council decides to ban farm animals from within the city limits and places that within the municipal code, the move would override the zoning ordinance language that the BZA used to overturn Barnett’s decision, said Jeff Bergman, Columbus planning director. The city then would strip the language out of the zoning ordinance, he said.

The text in the zoning ordinance was not intended to address allowing chickens within the city limits, Bergman said.

Melinda Burton of Columbus said she and her neighbors were surprised when chickens were being allowed within the city limits as pets. In addition to not believing that chickens are pets, Burton said, she and her neighbors are concerned about the potential costs involved.

“We as taxpayers don’t want to take on that cost,” she said.

Nancy Treesh of Columbus told the council that other animals are attracted by chickens to neighborhood backyards. She said a coyote recently went through the Nottingham Drive and Hillcrest Drive neighborhoods, with neighbors contending it was attracted by the chickens.

Councilmen shared a moment of humor after Miller mentioned that he knew of at least one horse that was living within the city limits on a five-acre parcel.

When Logston mentioned he thought there was a way to craft something for a municipal code for the council members to say yea or nay to animals in the city limits, councilmen joked that he really meant “neigh.”

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City attorney Jeff Logston said he would draft a proposed ordinance to regulate chickens and other farm animals within the city limits that could be discussed at the next council meeting on Nov. 17.