Proposed ordinance would allow for backyard chickens

Friday, January 29, 2010 | 7:04 p.m. CST; updated 12:50 p.m. CST, Monday, February 1, 2010

COLUMBIA — After months of debate on whether to allow Columbia residents to raise hens in their backyards, the City Council is scheduled to vote on the matter Monday night.

The bill on the council agenda, drafted by Public Health Director Stephanie Browning, allows Columbians to raise up to six hens on residential tracts. It would require that chickens be kept in hen houses or pens at least 25 feet from neighboring structures and 10 feet from property lines.

According to the proposed bill, hens could be kept only for non-commercial purposes. In addition, dogs and cats would not be considered “dangerous or aggressive” if they attack chickens off the owner’s property.

The bill also calls for residents to use specific types of materials and structures when building hen houses, such as sturdy wire, aviary netting and solid roofing.

The Board of Health voted down a similar ordinance at its Sept. 10 meeting because it did not require people to get their neighbors' approval before raising hens. The council asked Browning to draft another ordinance for its consideration; the new bill before council members, however, does not include a neighbor-approval provision and increases the number of hens allowed from four to six.

Mayor Darwin Hindman said that although he didn't call any other mayors concerning urban chickens, he has never heard of a city having problems with them. 

“There is nothing inherently bad about them as long as you keep the numbers under decent control,” said Hindman, who plans to vote in favor of the ordinance.

“There is no question how I feel. I’m for it,” Hindman said, adding that he supports people becoming more closely involved with their food.

The bill would allow residents to keep only hens, not roosters. Hindman said the choice to eliminate roosters was partly a noise issue.

“The problem with roosters in a city setting is roosters may disturb neighbors by crowing at inappropriate times,” Hindman said.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala questioned how many Columbians would actually take advantage of the ordinance if passed.

“If it passes, some people will want to do this initially but will soon find out that it can be a lot of work,” Skala said. “Ultimately, after a year or so, should it pass, it probably will have less people involved in this than anticipated.”

Skala is still inclined to support the bill but said his vote will rest on the discussion and public comment Monday night.

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