Urban chicken petition nets almost 1,000 signatures

BY AMY SKARNULIS | JULY 06, 2012 6:30 AM

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Chickens may soon scratch their way onto an Iowa City City Council agenda, as local residents have formed a nearly 1,000-signature petition in support of an urban chicken ordinance.

A petition circulated by I-CLUCK — an Iowa City group in favor of legalizing urban chickens — has 985 signatures from local residents in support of an ordinance allowing backyard chickens in Iowa City, and local advocates say they've seen widespread support.

Iowa City resident Shannon Gassman, 25, who started the petition earlier this year, has seen mostly support when looking for people to sign it.

"Personally, I have seen mostly supporters, especially at the Farmers' Market," she said. "People would come up and want to sign it right away."

Gassman said organizers were able to obtain so many signatures because of going to events such as the Farmers' Market looking for people to sign the petition.

"We attended a lot of community events," she said. "We were just asking people on the street whether or not they'd support the cause, and we got a lot of feedback."

City Clerk Marian Karr said the group attended many City Council meetings with other petitions in the past. She said it is ultimately up to the council to decide whether it would direct the city staff to get more information.

Urban chicken keeping remains a pending work-session topic, and Karr said depending on how soon staff looks into the issue it could be on the meeting's agenda July 31.

The City Council has addressed urban chickens in the past few years, The Daily Iowan has previously reported. According to a 2009 city memorandum, the Department of Housing and Inspection Services recommended councilors not amend the zoning code.

City councilors were not available for comment Thursday evening.

Gassman said she would like to have chickens in her backyard because of the cost benefits with having one's own eggs.

"The reason I want to do it is because it seems comparable to getting true, free-range, organic eggs," she said.

Local proponents cite other Iowa towns as one reason Iowa City should follow suit with allowing urban chicken keeping.

Both Cedar Rapids and Ames allow backyard chickens.

Kevin Ciabatti, the Cedar Rapids building-services manager, said the city has issued 54 permits to have backyard chickens.

"I think its very beneficial for our citizens to be able to have urban chickens," he said.

He said he feels it is a win-win situation, because officials were able to help the proponents of housing urban chickens, while also appealing the opponents by having restrictions on the ordinance.

Jennifer Murtoff — a self-proclaimed urban chicken consultant in Chicago and a proponent of urban chicken keeping — said backyard chickens can be very educational and informational.

"It can be very beneficial [to keep chickens in your yard] if they are keeping up with the code," she said.

"If some people do not keep up with the codes, they ruin the reputation for everyone."

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