Backyard chickens worth consideration


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The chicken question comes loaded with more feeling than the average layperson might expect. UrbanChickens.org, a group supporting legalizing chickens in Iowa City, reads something like a self-help book on the matter. “It can be done,” the website encourages supporters of pro-chicken ordinances, and to those despairing during the process, “you’re not alone.”

According to the Iowa City Friends of Urban Chickens, they may well be right. Some 500 Iowa City residents have signed the petition to allow chickens to be raised within the city limits, and the City Council is set to consider the proposal, with a preliminary vote Tuesday and a final vote tentatively scheduled for Dec. 4.

After a failed attempt to legalize chickens in 2009, the Iowa City Council reconsidered the motion, and passed a first consideration measure allowing debate on the issue to continue. The Daily Iowan Editorial Board, after careful thought and consideration, has re-evaluated its previous opposition to urban chickens as well.

Considering the restrictions that will be put in place if the council votes for chickens, the arguments against allowing chickens in an urban area do not stand up to significant scrutiny. With the permit system the rezoning law proposes, chicken owners would have to meet certain standards for coop construction and maintenance in order to keep their chickens legal. Likewise, chicken-owner-hopefuls would have to notify their neighbors in writing of their plans. The maximum number of hens allowed would be five per yard, and no roosters would be permitted, according to the petition put forth by Iowa City Friends of Urban Chickens. The cost of an initial permit would be $100, and renewal would run urban chicken owners $75 each subsequent year.

With these restrictions in place, the possibility of coops that breed salmonella, farm smells emanating from poorly kept chickens, and rooster crowing at all hours of the night if this ordinance passes are slim to none. The permit price would be high enough to deter all but the most committed chicken growers, and the clause that requires chicken owners to notify their neighbors allows for those opposed to chickens near them to weigh in and guarantee the neighbors’ chickens do not affect their property value or standard of living.

To add to these arguments for legalization, Iowa City is highly unlikely to be overrun with a sudden influx of chickens if the City Council passes the ordinance. Similar rezoning efforts in Cedar Rapids have led to a mere 19 active chicken permits this year in the city. Likewise, cities across the country — from Los Angeles, to Madison, Wis., to Honolulu — have legalized chickens without mishap.

In short, the potential risks of legalizing urban chickens are too small to justify our opposition or any offense taken at those who chose to have chickens in their lives. In the true spirit of liberalism, which calls for individual liberty so long as it does not infringe on others’, we endorse the urban chicken ordinance making its way through the City Council.

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