COLUMBIA — The Columbia City Council approved an ordinance that amends the city code to allow residents to keep chickens in their backyard.
The ordinance allows residents to keep six hens — no roosters — per tract, doesn't require a permit or neighbor approval and allows people to keep hens for only noncommercial purposes.
The council asked Stephanie Browning, director of the Health Department, to draft an ordinance after the Board of Health did not vote to recommend a proposed ordinance to the council at their Sept. 10, 2009 meeting.
Browning said she based her ordinance draft on research she’d gathered from other communities that have passed “urban chicken” ordinances.
“If the goal is fresh eggs to feed your family, six (hens) should be sufficient,” Browning said.
Realtors spoke out against the ordinance. They were concerned that urban hens would lower property values.
Carol Van Gorp, CEO of the Columbia Board of Realtors, said she had an overwhelming response from the 500 realtors she represents against the ordinance. Van Gorp said she’d sent out two surveys and received about a 40 percent response. Of those who responded, Van Gorp said 95 percent were “highly against” urban hens.
Dave Denton, a realtor in Columbia, said he’d seen property rates drop in the last two months and that it was not a good time to impact property values.
“I doubt most of you know the sensitivity of the sale,” he said.
Van Gorp also questioned how many of the supporters were homeowners.
This prompted a response from supporter Jill Lucht who came to the podium and asked all homeowners who supported the ordinance to stand. A large portion of the audience stood.
Supporter John Nichols countered the argument that hens would reduce property values, saying he would be looking to buy a house in a neighborhood that does allow chickens.
Ann Koenig, a mother of two, supported the ordinance not only because of the local food aspect, she said, but also because her children look forward to raising chickens.
Koenig discussed the learning process of selecting breeds, designing a coop and building it as a family.
"It seems just priceless," Koenig said.
Adam Saunders, with the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, spoke in support of the local food movement in Columbia.
"There are many benefits these children will receive by seeing where their food comes from," Saunders said.
Before passing the ordinance, the council voted to make two amendments to it.
Sturdy wooden fencing was added to the list of materials to construct hen houses. The original proposed ordinance specified that the hen houses be made only of sturdy wire fencing.
Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said she thought the wooden fencing was an acceptable material and it might help keep chickens out of the sight of barking dogs.
The council also amended the ordinance so that a dog or cat that kills a chicken outside of a coop would not be considered vicious or aggressive for that reason alone. The original ordinance stated they would not be considered vicious or aggressive for killing a hen alone if it was off the owner’s property.
After over more than two hours of public comment and council discussion, the ordinance passed in a 4-3 vote, with Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill, Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade and Fifth Ward Councilwoman Lauren Nauser dissenting.
The Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture will host classes for introductions to raising urban hens at 7 p.m. Feb. 17 and at 2 p.m. Feb. 20. Its Web site will be updated with locations.