Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Chicken change advocate touts backyard benefits of city fowl

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 7/5/2013

Chase Lebahn didn’t stay cooped up on the farm in Seymour, Mo.

But the 22-year-old Ottawa resident and self-professed outdoorsman would like to bring a little of the farm to roost in his backyard.

Chase Lebahn didn’t stay cooped up on the farm in Seymour, Mo.

But the 22-year-old Ottawa resident and self-professed outdoorsman would like to bring a little of the farm to roost in his backyard.

Lebahn recently circulated a petition asking the city to amend its ordinance to allow residents to keep a limited number of chickens or ducks on their property inside the city limits. The petition garnered nearly 50 signatures.

Fowl in Ottawa are restricted to properties larger than three acres, according to current city zoning regulations. The proposed amendment to that clause would allow residents to keep up to four chickens or ducks, after obtaining a conditional-use permit, city planning officials said. Roosters would continue to be prohibited under the proposed amendment.

A public hearing regarding the zoning change is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday in the commission chambers at City Hall, 101 S. Hickory St., Ottawa.

The hearing process, which began June 12, was extended to gather more public input, city planners said.

“It’s in the community’s best interest for all perspectives on the issue to be heard before the planning commission takes action,” John Boyd, planning commission chair and local defense attorney, said.

Backyard chickens can provide a safe, organic source of eggs, Lebahn said.

“I grew up on a farm with lots of chickens, and we had horses, cows, turkeys and ducks,” Lebahn said. “It is better to have fresh eggs that are not run through the processes used in commercial production.”

A chicken lays one egg per day, which would provide a family with four eggs each day if they kept the maximum number of hens under the proposed ordinance, Lebahn said.

“Roosters are not included in the proposed amendment,” Lebahn said. “They are the noisy ones, not the hens. Most people don’t realize that hens can still lay eggs without a rooster — the eggs will just not be fertilized.”

The value of fresh eggs doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of all the advantages a few chickens could provide, Lebahn said.

“Chickens’ waste can be composted to make a good fertilizer for your gardens,” he said. “And they eat almost any insect. Chickens also are good composters because they eat most scrap food you would normally throw in the garbage to send to landfills.”

Chicken coops are available at almost any farm and garden store that already are built and ready for chickens, Lebahn said.

“These coops are portable, so you can move them around in your yard and fertilize more than one area,” he said.

Chickens also could provide a good way for 4-H youths who live in town to learn how to take care of fowl and animals, Lebahn said.

Lebahn, a grounds keeper for Neosho County Community College, 900 E. Logan St., Ottawa, said most backyards should be of adequate size to handle four chickens or ducks.

“The rule is 10 square feet for each chicken,” he said.

The city planning staff will not be issuing a professional opinion on the proposed amendment change, Wynndee Lee, the city’s director of planning and codes administration, said.

The planning staff typically issues an opinion if the department brings the proposal to the planning commission, or if a proposed change in a zoning regulation required the expertise of a professional planner, Lee said. Neither applies with regard to the proposed chicken amendment, Lee said.

“This is more of a question of what are citizens willing to live with,” Lee said. “Whether the amendment was approved or not, our [department’s] role really would not change. We would be involved in monitoring and enforcement [of the regulations].”

People have strong opinions on both sides of the issue, Lee said, just as they did in 2009 when an amendment was proposed to allow chicken inside the city limits. In that instance, planners did not entertain the amendment, but said they might in the future if the proposal limited the number of chickens a person could have on their property, according to Herald archives.

Several Kansas communities do allow chickens to be kept inside their city limits.

Lawrence allows one chicken per 500 square feet, not to exceed 20 chickens, according to its ordinance. Roosters are not permitted.

Wichita allows a person to keep four hens without a city permit or four to 12 hens with a city permit, according to its ordinance. Roosters are not permitted.

“I think there is a changing norm,” Lee said. “All cities prohibited chickens for a long time, but that’s not necessarily the case today. I think a lot of it depends on the culture of the community, and how much more tolerant one community might be than another.”

A few examples of metropolitan areas that allow chickens include the Texas cities of Austin, El Paso and Fort Worth, as well as Tulsa, Okla., Nashville and St. Louis.

Residents began to weigh in on the issue in a Herald poll Friday afternoon.

A few said the city should deal with its feral cat population before considering an ordinance regarding chickens.

Others supported Lebahn’s efforts and thought chickens could provide fresh eggs during a difficult economy.

“Why not? With the price of eggs and poultry, the city would be doing everyone a favor,” Tyler Jenkins, Ottawa, said in an online comment.

Instead of proposing an amendment to allow chickens, Lebahn said he proposed limiting it to four chickens as a way for the city to regulate the chicken population.

“I’m trying to go about this in a responsible manner,” Lebahn, a karate instructor for the Ottawa Recreation Commission, said. “I want to do this the right way.”

Lee said she admired Lebahn for “staying the course and being part of the dialogue.”

Chickens are more than just a source of eggs and fertilizer to many people, Lebahn said.

People often give their chickens names and treat them like pets, Lebahn said.

“We had so many chickens when I was young that I couldn’t name them, but if I only had three or four, I probably would give them names. For some people, they become just like pet dogs.”

But whereas several dogs in one yard can make a ruckus, Lebahn said, neighbors would not have to worry about noise concerns from four hens.

“They make a very soft clucking sound, and if they were behind a privacy fence you probably wouldn’t even know they were there,” Lebahn said. “The city’s ordinance allows up to five dogs in a backyard. I guarantee you five dogs would be a lot noisier than four chickens.”

The sound of clucking is music to Lebahn’s ears, he said.

“They make a very soothing sound.”

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