Tuesday, Dec. 04 2012 4:55PM
Urban chickens may cluck again
Lee’s Summit C ity Council subcommittee working on ordinance
By Russ Pulley
Lee’s Summit might catch up with New York City on the chicken issue.
A City Council subcommittee is working on ordinance provisions to let homeowners keep a few hens; roosters probably will be outlawed.
The City Council’s Community and Economic Development Committee Nov. 28 asked city staff to draft regulations to allow keeping chickens in single-family neighborhoods. The committee recently met to discuss chickens, design standards for downtown Lee’s Summit buildings and the donation bins for the recycling and clothing which dot the city.
Chickens got attention because of the nuisance potential, but that concern was blunted by comments by Councilmember Derek Holland and testimony from George Harding, manager of animal control. Holland said he’d support allowing four to six chickens in a backyard coop.
The city allows three dogs or cats in those neighborhoods, or more of those animals with a permit.
“I’ve always owned dogs,” Holland said. “If there’s a bigger nuisance around in the world than a dog, I don’t know what it is.”
The handful of chicken supporters in the audience applauded.
“I’ve got the chicken vote locked up,” Holland joked.
“Hens are quieter than dogs,” said Noel Eaton, a supporter of easing the chicken rules. Currently they’re allowed in the city, but must be 400 feet from the nearest neighbor’s dwelling.
Eaton and other supporters say backyard chickens fit into the city’s sustainability efforts by promoting local food production.
Chickens eat bugs, produce manure that can be composted to make environment-friendly fertilizer and teach children about ecology and farming, they said. Families also look at them as pets that produce eggs.
Councilmember Allan Gray said it’s a stretch for him to see a chicken as a pet, but added he likes eggs and would support allowing up to six chickens for a household. Councilmember Rob Binney, who sells real estate, said he is torn on how far the city should go.
“Do we start allowing three dogs and three chickens?” Binney said.
He said some potential residents might want to avoid chickens but others might find it a plus, and Binney is concerned that much of the city has homeowners associations that could outlaw chickens in those subdivisions, but his district is in an older part of town where homeowners associations don’t exist.
One solution, used in some cities, is to require the chicken owner to get written permission from their neighbors. But that has drawbacks too, Holland said, as neighbors sometimes don’t get along and someone might refuse permission for reasons not related to chickens.
Binney said he could support allowing an owner to have several hens, but that the city should prohibit selling of the eggs.
Harding told the committee there a numerous cities, large and small, which are allowing homeowners to keep a few chickens for their own use.
The list includes New York City, Houston, Chicago, Portland, Seattle, and locally Kansas City, Grandview, Raytown, Parkville, Belton and others.
Harding said the rules for keeping backyard chickens vary widely, some cities require a permit, others ask owners to get agreements from neighbors.
Harding said there were few serious health concerns with the major problem is possibility of salmonella. The real person at risk from salmonella is the owner, but the disease is easily controlled by careful hand washing and food preparation.
Most urban chicken ordinances include some distance limits to keep chicken coops away from a neighbor’s property line and provisions against odors, Harding said.
Harding said the animal control department already gets 10 to 12 chicken calls each year and doesn’t expect that to increase if the city makes chickens legal.
The committee directed city staff to draft proposed rules based on its discussion and bring it back for review.