Chickens not ruffling feathers so far in Cedar Rapids

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Matt Widner is baffled.

Months after the end of a hard-boiled battle over backyard chickens, it’s as if no one gives a cluck.

“I’m actually quite surprised,” said Widner, the Cedar Rapids building official in charge of issuing permits for homeowners to keep hens. “This has been one of the least active ordinances I’ve ever seen.”

Members of Cedar Rapids Citizens for the Legalization of Urban Chickens — CR-CLUC — worked for at least a year before the City Council passed an ordinance last summer to allow up to six hens per household.

Since then, Widner said, little has happened.

No odor complaints.

No flocks of chickens roaming the streets.

Only a handful of complaints about noise. Those were for roosters, which are not legal under the ordinance and were probably already in the city before the measure passed, Widner said.

One “at-large” chicken was found after the law passed, but Widner said no one had a permit in that neighborhood and the untagged chicken was likely let loose by someone. Animal control workers found a home for the hen.

“We’re talking six complaints out of a city of 128,000,” he said.

Even more surprising to Widner is that just 18 permits have been issued.

“The interest in this seems quite low compared to what we anticipated,” he said.

That isn’t a negative, Widner noted, because the people who have taken out permits are doing so responsibly.

Residents must take an approved class, pay a $25 annual fee and meet other requirements, such as notifying neighbors before they get chickens and keeping the hens in an enclosure or fenced area at all times.

Rebecca Mumaw, one of the driving forces behind CR-CLUC, said about 75 families have taken the class through the Indian Creek Nature Center. (See related article in Sunday’s Home section.)

Mumaw said more people will likely be getting permits soon.

The hen hoopla led to Cedar Rapids and neighboring Palo both receiving a mention in a new book, “The Backyard Chicken Fight,” by Idaho author Gretchen Anderson.

Mary Benion of Palo, who pushed for the town’s backyard chickens law, said Anderson contacted her after the Palo City Council passed the measure last year with little fuss.

A photo of Benion, her husband, Rod, and their chicken, Comet, that they used for Christmas cards was included in the book, she said.

The couple’s four hens are doing “wonderful,” said Benion, who started keeping track of the eggs they laid this winter: 82 in January; 71 in February and 90 in March.

“For two people, that’s plenty,” she said.

City Administrator Trisca Smetzer said Palo residents do not need a permit, but must abide by the rules, which are similar to those in Cedar Rapids. About five families in Palo have chickens and there have been no problems so far, she said.

Iowa City had its own group pushing for urban chickens the past two years, but no action was taken by the City Council.

Supporters there noted that raising chickens is environmentally friendly and saves money. Opponents argued the chickens could be noisy, messy and lead to disputes between neighbors.

Widner said other cities have been calling to review what Cedar Rapids has done.

The ordinance is up for review in October.

“I don’t foresee this running into any issues,” Widner said. “I consider it a successful program.”

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