Danedri Thompson
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Gardner residents can request a special use permit in order to keep chickens in town, but the rules for keeping chickens in residential areas aren’t clear, Mike Hall, Community Development Director, told city council members during a work session last week.
“People can apply for permission to keep chickens,” he said. “Currently there are no standards to tell people what we would allow. There’s so much discretion involved.”
Council member Kristina Harrison said special permits make her nervous.
“I think we need to be clear, and if we’re going to be clear and say these are the guidelines, why do you need the permit?” she said.
Council member Heath Freeman said the special use permit could be used more as a checklist to keep those who own chickens informed of the city regulations.
Hall said there are several things council should consider, if it wants to remove some of the discretion from existing code. The regulations could address things like the need for chicken enclosures,  limits on the number of fowl, and setbacks.
Gardner has a lot of small residential lots, measuring between 8,000 and 8,500 square feet. Many cities require that chicken enclosures are set back from neighboring dwellings and property lines. For example, Olathe requires that chicken enclosures be setback at least 9-feet from property lines and 40-feet from neighboring dwellings.
With Gardner’s small lots, those kinds of setbacks may be nearly impossible.
“There aren’t many lots that are one acre, two-acre range,” Hall said. “There are some lots that are larger, but not very many.”
In Kansas City, Mo., chickens are permitted in all residential districts, however there are certain regulations. Chicken enclosures must be at least 100-feet from any residence or dwelling, the chickens must be enclosed on all sides and no roosters are allowed within 300-feet of a neighboring dwelling.
Limiting the number and sex of fowl is also common, however Hall said it’s difficult to determine the sex of a baby chick.
“What you think of as a hen could grow up to be a rooster,” Hall explained. “While it might sound like you can control roosters, in reality, I think it’s been difficult for cities to do that.”
He also suggested that council should consider how to address and review the permitting process and how the city would enforce cleaning and disposal requirements.
“This is fairly trendy now. While it might seem like a good idea to have chickens now, what happens in a few years when people are tired of it? Do you just release (the chickens)? Three generations ago, people were used to taking them to the block and putting them in a pot. People may not be like that now,” Hall told the council. “There are unintended consequences.”
One consequence, Hall explained, is that people may seek approval for for further urban farming uses.
“Anticipate requests for livestock and beekeeping,” he said.
Council member Larry Fotovich said allowing chickens could be a mess.
“I love that it’s en vogue,” he said. “But we don’t live on farms here. You’re going to introduce an entire level of requirements that are going to come back to your office.”
Hall suggested that while council is considering potential chicken ordinances and codes, they may also want to look at other aspects of urban farming, like gardens.
“It may be helpful to clarify size and location,” Hall said.
Right now, he said, Gardner code allows vegetable gardens in front yards.
“A vegetable garden is not very attractive in the months that it’s dormant,” Hall said. “Is it OK for a vegetable garden to cover an entire front yard? In some subdivisions, it would raise some eyebrows. When you look at the code issues, you need to look at more than the chicken issue.”
Today, Hall said there are no special use permits for chickens, however he said city staff has taken a few calls on the topic.
“Maybe we haven’t had that many people apply, because $300 for a special use permit is expensive,” council member Tory Roberts said. “There should be steps, but maybe we need to rethink it.”
Harrison voiced her support for drafting an ordinance for chicken husbandry. She said she has received calls from several residents.
“I haven’t heard any opposition,” she said. “To get public input, you start putting stuff together.”
Council didn’t appear to reach a clear consensus on how a chicken ordinance would look. However, they were clear on one aspect of proposed regulations.
“No roosters,” Freeman said.