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Iowa City city councilors move forward with chicken ordinance

BY NICK HASSETT | NOVEMBER 14, 2012 6:30 AM

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Iowa City residents who want to keep backyard chickens may soon get their wish.

The Iowa City City Council voted 5-2 on the first consideration of an amendment to the city’s zoning code on establishing a permit process, which would allow residents to keep chickens at single-family detached residences. Councilors Michelle Payne and Terry Dickens voted against the measure.

The proposed amendment would require would-be chicken owners to obtain permits from the city.  The fee for an initial permit would be $100; it would cost $75 to renew the permit.

Several requirements accompany the permit system as proposed, one of which is that the applicant would need to provide written verification that he or she notified all abutting property owners that he or she is submitting a chicken application.

An ordinance requires three votes in the council to pass. The third consideration of the ordinance will tentatively take place on Dec. 4, after which the zoning code would be officially amended.

Though the council only voted on the change to the zoning code of the city and not any specific policies, Mayor Matt Hayek said the ordinance should allow neighbors to have a say.

“The [chicken] policy itself is something I’ve had a problem with from Day One,” he said. “Neighbors should have a period of time to object to a permit.”

Councilor Rick Dobyns said he thought allowing neighbors to object would give “veto power” to neighbors, and he expressed support for the zoning change.

Several local residents voiced their support and opposition to the measure at the meeting.

KT LaBadie, who runs the website urbanchickens.org along with her husband, said she didn’t think the city would have a problem with half-hearted chicken owners and violations of policy.

“I don’t think we’ll have people thinking, ‘I’m gonna do this on the fly,’ ” she said. “There are always going to be people who can’t follow rules, but we shouldn’t limit everyone else who wants to go forward and do this.”

However, Iowa City resident Rachel Gold thought there were alternatives to urban chickens that should be explored.

“I wouldn’t want to live next to a house with chickens,” she said. “There’s lots of rural space outside of city limits to do things like this.”

Many cities across the nation and the state have adopted urban chicken ordinances, including Cedar Rapids and Ames.

Jennifer Murtoff, an urban-chicken consultant based in the Chicago area, said the main reason that cities would have chicken ordinances in place is the laws have been there since the beginning.

“Chicago has had laws on the books [regarding chicken ownership] since it was founded,” she said. “It may be difficult to get a law in place for some areas.”

However, Murtoff thinks most of the arguments against allowing urban chickens are just urban legends.

“There’s no real effect on property values,” she said, adding that the top 10 housing markets across the country have some sort of ordinance allowing residents to own chickens.

Murtoff thinks the noise level of chickens also has misconceptions, saying that the average decibel amount from a chicken coop was 70 decibels, while that of a parrot was 135.

Ultimately, she said, the best way for proponents of chicken ownership to make their case is to give others a tour of a neighborhood with chicken owners.

“When people see these neighborhoods, there’s no way to tell which house has chickens,” she said.

“You don’t smell it, see it, or hear it. Before people write off the issues, they should investigate and get a taste for what chicken ownership means. ”

Shannon Gassman, a member of I-CLUCK — an Iowa City group in favor of legalizing urban chickens — said there were various health benefits for chicken owners.

“We need to look at ways to enhance our food systems,” she said. “I don’t believe the majority of eggs in grocery stores are up to what they could be.”

City Councilors will vote on the second consideration of the ordinance on Nov. 27.


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