Johnson City has made good on its promise to revamp the municipal code to make allowances for the keeping of chickens within the city limits.
Proposed changes in the law, along with suggestions and a few “fill in the blanks” where further decisions need to be made have been passed from the city’s planning department to Chickens On Our Property. On Jan. 19, members of the group gave a compelling presentation that convinced city commissioners to change course on a previous decision to ban chickens in residential areas within the city limits.
There is not yet a set date on which the City Commission will consider the ordinance. It’s wording still needs some massaging, and Emily Katt, C.O.O.P. co-founder, though happy with most of the proposed changes, still is seeking further compromises and more clarification.
“Generally, I don’t have a problem with it,” Katt said. “We’ve been talking back and forth with people who keep hens. Overall, I’m very pleased with their research, and it’s positive.”
Planning Director Jim Donnelly has drawn up proposed changes and suggestions for a revised ordinance and calls for the keeping of domesticated hens (Gallus domesticus) — female chickens that may, where permitted, be kept for eggs, education or pets.
Roosters have generally been prohibited due to neighborhood complaints about crowing, and they are not necessary in the production of eggs. Domesticated ducks, geese, turkeys and other types of fowl will remain prohibited in the municipality.
Donnelly said there are three primary reasons for the interest in backyard chicken keeping: an increasing popularity of local food production, lower food costs due to reduced traveling and a “perceived” safer solution in light of increasing meat and food recalls.
The city’s proposed ordinance includes an annual $25 fee, an enclosure requirement, the possible restriction of slaughtering chickens within the city limits, a certain setback from neighboring structures, a minimum of 2 square feet per hen for henhouses and 10 square feet per bird for fenced enclosures with a maximum of six hens allowed per household.
“The idea of chickens based on land area — I take exception to that,” Katt said. “We don’t restrict dogs based on lot size. As far as a fee, we don’t oppose one. But I do want to make the point that Johnson City doesn’t charge an annual fee for dogs and cats. They’re talking about having a limited number of licenses for one year. I feel like this is a way to make us have to fight the fight again every year.”
Katt said she felt Johnson City had not done its homework when listing the various cities across the state and whether they allow hens within city limits. She also said it still is unclear who would actually issue permits, and she disagreed with having only two hens in one enclosure.
“Two is just not that healthy,” she said. “They are very social and enjoy having a pecking order with the other ladies.”
Donnelly suggests chickens be allowed only in low density residential districts and the keeping of hens, as well as horses, cattle, goats and sheep and other animals in agriculturally zoned districts be at least 15 acres or more.
The 2010 version of the City Commission shot down the idea of keeping chickens in residentially zoned areas. And though it was not brought to light at the time, city code allows some chickens and chicken coops with the blessing of a “health officer.”
But Katt and others pointed out the city has no health officer, and Donnelly has drawn a line through that section. Code enforcement officers have largely been doing that job along with animal control employees.
Donnelly concludes the report by saying sustainability is a recent buzz word that has gained popularity in relation to cities and their environment and that allowing the raising of backyard chickens “is one method of reaching increased sustainability.”
“A well thought out pro-chicken ordinance can allow residents the right to keep chickens while also addressing the concerns of other groups,” he said. “Local governments are increasingly approaching the question of urban backyard chicken keeping with a ‘how to’ rather than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as cities across the country are demonstrating that it can be done successfully.”