Ottawa city commissioners showed Monday that they were about as divided as planning commissioners on whether the city should allow chickens to take roost in the city.
After receiving testimony during a public hearing July 10, Ottawa planning commissioners voted 4-2 to oppose a proposed amendment to the city’s zoning regulations that would allow up to four hens or ducks to be kept on lots smaller than three acres inside Ottawa’s city limits with approval of a conditional-use permit.
A petition circulated by Chase Lebahn, the 22-year-old Ottawa resident who asked the city to amend its ordinance, garnered nearly 50 signatures calling for a hearing on the issue.
After the hearing, the planning commission’s recommendation to deny the zoning change was forwarded to the Ottawa City Commission, which took up the issue at its study session Monday afternoon.
City commissioners Blake Jorgensen and Mike Skidmore said Monday they would like to send the issue back to the planning commission so all seven members of the commission could vote on the issue. Planning commissioner Rick Nunez could not be at the July 10 meeting. Skidmore said he would like to have known if the split would have been closer at 4-3 or more lopsided at 5-2.
Skidmore and Jorgensen also expressed interest in learning more about the experiences of other cities in the region that allow a certain number of chickens to be kept inside the city limits, citing Lawrence as an example.
Jorgensen noted the number of people who had signed the petition. He also said that growing up around fowl, he didn’t think noise would be an issue.
City commissioners Shawn Dickinson and Linda Reed said they thought the planning commission had done a good job of weighing the issue, listening to both proponents and opponents of the zoning amendment, and that they felt comfortable pushing ahead with a vote at the commission’s Aug. 7 meeting.
Mayor Sara Caylor broke the tie by siding with Reed and Dickinson.
“I think we need to vote on it,” Caylor said. “The planning commission did its job, now it’s time to do ours.”
Wynndee Lee, the city’s director of planning and codes administration, told commissioners they had the option of concurring with the planning commission’s recommendation to deny the zoning amendment, overriding the planning commission’s recommendation with a two-thirds majority vote or could send the issue back to the planning commission with specific instructions about why it was being sent back.
Richard Nienstedt, city manager, and Lee told commissioners that they could still do some research on other city’s regulations and experiences and bring that back to commissioners next Monday.
Commissioners instructed Lee and her staff to put together the research for next Monday’s study session, which commissioners said would give them time to mull it over before their Aug. 7 vote.
The issue of enforcement came up during Monday’s discussion about what would happen if chickens were found running loose in neighborhoods.
Dennis Butler, Ottawa police chief, said his community services officer has every certification he can obtain with regard to animal control, but none of those certifications addressed the handling of chickens. He said his patrol officers and community services officer would not be chasing chickens down the street.
“The only way he [community services officer] would get involved is if the chicken didn’t make it across the road,” Butler said.