Backyard chickens feasible in Iowa City, city manager says

Provisions could allow poultry, protect neighbors' interests

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Why did the chicken cross the road? In Iowa City the answer may soon be, “To get to people’s backyards.”

City Manager Tom Markus said Thursday the city can handle allowing residents to keep a small number of chickens at their homes.

“We think we can cobble together enough provisions to both allow it and protect the neighbors,” he said.

The City Council will discuss the issue at its work session July 31.

In June, an advocacy group calling itself Iowa City Citizens for the Legalization of Urban Chicken Keeping, or I-CLUCK, submitted a petition signed by nearly 1,000 people expressing support for what is commonly called backyard or urban chickens. The city also was petitioned in 2009, but early the next year a majority of council members said they were opposed.

Petition organizers did not immediately return messages seeking comment Thursday.

To allow backyard chickens, the city’s zoning code would need to be changed. The raising of livestock is considered an agricultural use, which is not allowed in residential zones.

If four of the seven City Council members want to move forward, city officials would meet with petition organizers and draw up a proposal, Markus said. That plan would go to the Planning and Zoning Commission and then the City Council, which has the final say.

On Thursday, none of the four council members reached by The Gazette expressed outright opposition to the recommendation.

Susan Mims, who in the past objected to the city exploring the issue, said she possibly could support a restrictive ordinance. She noted, however, that there are a lot of questions to consider, like what happens when a chicken gets sick or no longer produces eggs.

She also said that while backyard chicken supporters have been very vocal, she’s also heard from a lot of people concerned about problems with noise and smell.

“There are very, very strong feelings on both sides of the issue,” she said.

One idea city staffers have discussed is requiring anyone who wants a chicken permit to get the consent of immediate neighbors, Markus said. Council member Terry Dickens said his support would be conditional on such a provision being included.

“If there’s one neighbor that is against, it, they can’t put it in,” said Dickens, another past backyard chicken opponent.

Cities nationwide and in Iowa allow chickens in residential areas. Since 2010, Cedar Rapids has allowed up to six hens per household.

Cedar Rapids has issued more than 50 permits, with most of those coming in 2011 and this year, said Diane Webber, the city’s animal control director. There are a couple of complaints a month, usually related to noise, odor or stray chickens, she said. But some of those are repeat complaints and are the result of neighbor disputes that the chickens are not always the cause of, she said.

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