Council OKs backyard chickens

City leaders have amended the city’s animal ordinance that will now allow residents to have up to four backyard chickens.

The issue brought before city council members Tuesday came after months of work by a 10-member citizen committee that volunteered to meet with council members Tom Dell and Laurie Booher to craft a compromise. Those individuals included five people who expressed pro-backyard chicken sentiments and five who had expressed anti-backyard chicken opinions.

The committee was tasked with determining the proper oversight and limitations to backyard chicken raising, including addressing health issues and whether a limit should be set on the number of chickens allowed at a city residence.

City Council members heard a proposed amendment recommended by the committee on Tuesday that would have limited the number of chickens in backyard coops to six hens. The proposal also called for parameters for code enforcement of coops and treatment of the chickens, among other restrictions.

The council had initially voted to ban chickens in June, with council members Elaine Wagner and Booher voting against the ban. The council then tabled the second reading of the ordinance and asked for formation of the citizen committee, which had been meeting since the summer.

Mayor Jim Lienhoop limited public comment Tuesday to those serving on the committee, while council members also weighed in on the issue.

Councilman Frank Jerome spoke about the effort put in by the panel and said council was faced with making a decision.

“They came up with a plan. My feel is we accept the recommendation or don’t accept the recommendation,” Jerome said.

Dell described the recommendation as feasible, acknowledging the amendment wasn’t perfect. That sentiment was shared by Wagner, who voiced her support in moving forward with the proposed changes.

“You have to start somewhere, and this is the right thing to do,” she said.

The amendment was made more restrictive, however, after some last-minute discussions among council members.

The amendment, which passed 6-1, with councilman Dascal Bunch casting the lone dissenting vote, stipulates that a chicken coop and attached chicken run can’t exceed 32 square feet.

In addition, the chicken coop and attached chicken run has to be no less than 20 feet from any adjacent property line and cannot be located in the front or side yards on property.

Stephanie Strothmann, a member of the citizen committee, said after the meeting that she was disappointed that the committee’s proposal was not accepted as presented.

“But the council has made its decision and we need to be respectful of that,” she said.

Strothmann, who purchased four hens a year ago, hinted at possibly coming back with another recommendation in the future.

“I don’t think we’re done yet,” she said.

Melinda Burton, a member of the committee who initially opposed allowing chickens in the city, said she was pleased with the council’s decision and believes it is fair.

“There is a give and take and so, it is what it is,” “Not everybody can have what they want,” Burton said. “I feel like we struck a balance.”

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The city’s animal ordinance that will now allow residents to have up to four backyard chickens takes effect in 60 days, on Dec. 4.