A proposed zoning amendment to allow chickens to be kept inside Ottawa’s city limits hit a roadblock Wednesday night, but it hasn’t laid an egg just yet.
After receiving testimony during a public hearing Wednesday, 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 with approval of a conditional-use permit.
The planning commission’s recommendation to deny the zoning change will be forwarded to the Ottawa City Commission. The zoning amendment is not on the agenda for the city commission’s 4 p.m. study session Monday at City Hall, 101 S. Hickory St., Ottawa. But the commission likely will take up the matter later this month, Wynndee Lee, the city’s director of planning and codes administration, said Friday.
Chase Lebahn, the 22-year-old Ottawa resident who circulated a petition asking the city to amend its ordinance to allow residents to keep up to four hens on their property inside the city limits, said he was a little dejected at first after Wednesday’s meeting. Lebahn’s petition garnered nearly 50 signatures.
“I was a little sad, because I thought that was the end of it,” Lebahn, who grew up on a Seymour, Mo., farm with lots of chickens and livestock, said after the planning commission’s vote. “But I understand now that it’s not done until the [city] commission votes on it. So there’s still hope.”
Several residents testified during the public hearing Wednesday night — on both sides of the fence.
Richard Warren, who was a member of the planning commission in 2009 when it opposed a proposal to allow chickens inside the city limits, told commissioners he thought highly of Lebahn, who was one of his former students at Neosho County Community College’s Ottawa campus. Warren talked about owning chickens when he lived in suburban Miami, and he learned several lessons from that experience, he said.
Chickens can get loose and destroy neighbors’ gardens and, if approved, the amendment could place an additional burden on city staff who would have to enforce the regulations regarding chickens, Warren said.
Other residents shared similar concerns.
“Chickens belong in the country,” Peggy Crosby, who lives near a person who had chickens and roosters before the city ordinance was put in place, said. “I would find chicken eggs in my flower bed.
The Ottawa resident also put up a privacy fence to ward off chickens, she said.
“The fence didn’t matter — they were still in the backyard,” Crosby said.
If the chicken coops are properly built, chickens should not get free to damage neighboring properties, Paul Hemmerla, Ottawa resident, said.
Hemmerla lived around chickens for three years while he was teaching at a college in Hawaii, he said.
“I didn’t have any problems [with neighbors’ chickens],” he said.
The chickens were not noisy, nor did they create an odor problem, Hemmerla said.
“If the coop is properly built, the chickens should not be able to get out to ruin gardens and flowers,” he said.
Planning commission member Brandon Livingston asked Lee what recourse property owners had if a neighbor’s chicken damaged their yard or garden.
The planning and codes department would work to resolve the dispute, if possible, before allowing it to end up in court, she said.
Planning commissioner Bill Crowley said the proposed zoning amendment of up to four chickens would be quite different than the experience Crosby previously had with a neighbor who had numerous chickens and roosters because that person was grandfathered in before the current zoning regulations were put in place.
The proposal drew written comments from several residents.
“Allowing residents to have fowl would not only disturb neighbors but could be unsightly for those visiting our city,” Barb Humm said in a written statement. Lee pointed out the planning and codes department is charged with enforcing regulations, regardless if the amendment is adopted or not.
“Either way, we are still in charge of enforcement,” Lee said. “Some people have mentioned animal control, but this would not be an issue for animal control.”
Lebahn, a grounds keeper for Neosho County Community College, 900 E. Logan St., Ottawa, said requiring a conditional-use permit could help city officials enforce regulations because they would know what addresses to visit to ensure residents were abiding by the conditions of their permits.
Conditional-use permits also can be revisited, Lee said, if a person is habitually breaking the conditions of the permit.
Bob Bezek, city attorney, also pointed out that a sunset provision could be written into the conditional-use permit.
Jack Maxwell, planning commissioner, said chickens also could serve as a potential food source for predators like coyotes or foxes.
Dana White, Ottawa resident, would be in favor of up to four chickens or ducks as long as they, as well as the area they’re contained in, are properly maintained, she said in an email to city planning staff.
Planning commission chair John Boyd indicated he would prefer to put off the vote until the commission’s Aug. 14 meeting to give the matter further review. Commissioner Ruthanne Wasko said she would like for planning staff to gather comments from other communities that allow chickens to see what experiences they have had — bad and good.
Wasko made a motion to table the issue until the commission’s Aug. 14 meeting, but that motion died for lack of a second.
Maxwell made a motion that the commission deny the proposed amendment.
Commissioners Maxwell, Livingston, Wasko and Betty Birzer voted “yes” to oppose the proposed amendment. Chairman Boyd and Crowley voted against Maxwell’s amendment. Birzer participated in the meeting via speaker phone. Commissioner Rick Nunez was not in attendance.
Lebahn plans to attend the city commission meeting when the issue will be discussed later this month, and he’s hoping to bring some other supporters with him, he said.
City commissioners could concur with the planning commission’s recommendation, override the planners’ recommendation with a two-thirds majority or send it back to the planning commission for further consideration with a written explanation of why they are sending it back, Lee said.
“People have told me there is only a slim chance that [the city] commission will approve it,” Lebahn said. “But a slim chance is better than none.”