Chicken debate continues in Lincoln

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[June 25, 2020] 

Tuesday evening the debate over whether or not to permit chickens to be raised within the city limits of Lincoln continued in the council chambers.

Alderman Kevin Bateman is still going to be a hard “no” when the item eventually comes to a vote. Sam Downs also has some concerns about permitting chickens, while Ron Keller continues to be an advocate of the egg layers. Other aldermen appear to be somewhat in favor, but not as passionate on the subject as Keller and Bateman.

All those on both sides of the fence offered solid arguments pro and con. At the end of the lengthy discussion, the item was carried over to the next Lincoln Committee of the Whole, which will be July 15th. Attorney John Hoblit was given some direction on adjusting the initial draft of a new ordinance and discussions will continue.

Early in the evening during the public participation portion of the night, Jonathan Cox called in to voice his objection to making chicken owners purchase a permit. He offered up two arguments. He said first, that no one has to purchase a permit to have a cat or other pet and many who own chickens will consider them to be pets. He said it wasn’t right for one pet to be restricted while another isn’t. Then, he said that no one had required there be a permit for horses in the city, yet we have them and no one seems to be bothered by it.

Kathy Horn and Jeff Hoinacki are the only two aldermen on the city council who were holding office when the horse issue came before the council. She spoke up and said that there were permits involved with the horses and that there had also been some very specific and strict guidelines written in order to accommodate the animals. Treasurer Chuck Conzo agreed saying that the horse ordinances were written to allow horses where acreage was available. He said the ordinance had been written specifically so that no one could have a horse living in their back yard.

With city council meetings still closed due to coronavirus, Lincoln Zoning Officer Wes Woodhall was on teleconference and spoke up about the horses also. He said that the horse owners do not pay an animal permit. The permit for horses was written as a special use permit for the land. The topic of horses had also gone to the planning commission and the allowances and restrictions for owning horses had been very carefully considered prior to the motions coming to the city council.

When the chicken topic came up on the agenda later in the evening, Bateman was the first to speak. He said that he would continue to oppose allowing chickens. He said that since the last meeting he had spoken with the Logan County Department of Public Health and that organization is also very concerned about this proposal. They spoke to Bateman about disease, rodents, and sanitation and said that chickens were not a good idea within our city limits.

Bateman said that he also still had concerns about the coyotes that roam the city and also said that feral cats will target the birds as well.

Bateman said that he had spoken with animal control and they are not equipped to address issues with roaming chickens. He said that they have no means to capture or even house the chickens in impoundment after they are captured.

Batemans added that within one day of the conversations at the last city council meeting, a chicken was noted to be roaming the streets of the city. He said that issuing permits for the animals would not work the way the council thinks because for every one person who follows the rules and does things right there will be 10 who don’t. He noted that it is the same with dogs in the county. Tags are required, but a lot of people just don’t bother.

Finally, he said that with no enforcement from the animal control, the burden would fall on Woodhall and his staff and the police department. Bateman said right now there is a home in Lincoln where the owner has more than 100 cats. There are un-kempt properties and numerous other issues Woodhall and his small staff have to address daily. They are already overtaxed and chickens would just add to their burden.

Keller said that since the last meeting he had contacted various other cities that do permit chickens. He spoke specifically about Decatur, Jacksonville and Highland Park. Those three city managers told Keller that there were absolutely no problems that had come up with chickens in their cities. Keller said he had asked about noise and was told that chickens were not noisy. The dogs in those cities were much more of an issue than the chickens.

Steve Parrott asked how homeowners were to deal with waste from the chickens. Keller said he had asked that question also and was told that in the other towns, homeowners can scoop their waste into garbage bags and send it off with their weekly trash collection.

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Woodhall said he had also spoken to a different person in Jacksonville who echoed the same things Keller had been told. The chickens were not an issue in that town. That person had told Woodhall that in the three to four years this has been a practice in Jacksonville, the singular issue for the city had involved a rooster, not a hen.

Discussions continued touching on the topics of use of a side yard for the chickens, property setbacks, no permitting for butchering and no permitting of “walking” chickens in public areas such as down the street.

It was also recommended that coops should be covered shelters to reduce invasion of predator animals. The “free range” area for chickens outside the coop should be fenced.

Then came the discussion on control. Bateman said that if there was going to be rules and permits there also needed to be fines for violation of the rules. At the same time, he said that day in and day out, the animal control impounds dogs and the owners never come to pay the fines. They “just go get another dog.” Bateman said the same thing will happen here. People will not claim the chicken; they will just go buy another.

Then came the issue of how to handle an impounded chicken. Tracy Welch said that he felt like the best solution would be to find a local farm that would take the chicken off the city’s hands.

Downs somewhat misinterpreted Welch’s remark thinking that the city was going to just take the bird to the country and dump it out. He said that would be cruel and irresponsible. Welch clarified his suggestion saying he meant to give the bird to someone in the country who would take it. He said he didn’t feel that would be cruel because surely a chicken would be happier out in the country roaming freely than living in town in limited space. Downs said Welch couldn’t know that. Perhaps the chicken was happy living in town and didn’t want to go to the country.

Going back to who claims the chicken, the council talked about how they could identify a roaming chicken if caught. It was suggested that the permit for the chickens could be issued with leg bands that had to be put on each bird. The band would then verify who the bird belonged to if caught.

Throughout the evening there had been talks about disease and sanitation. Bateman had latched on to the birds being disease carriers that would pass their illnesses on to humans while Keller said that it didn’t happen all that often.

One portion of the current draft states that the chicken coop must be set back at least 12 feet from the primary dwelling.

Treasurer Chuck Conzo asked why that was part of the rules. He said that for some homeowners getting a confinement 12 feet from the home, ten feet from a property line and 30 feet from a neighbor, as the draft is currently written, would be almost impossible.

Woodhall said he had recommended those setbacks based on current regulations for “accessory structures” in the city. He said that said structures were to be separated from the dwelling to help protect the dwelling from loss, and that, yes, there were also some health, safety and sanitation considerations as well.

Bateman then said that it sounded like the building needed to be separated from the dwelling to help protect residents from health issues. He said it can’t be both ways. Do chickens cause health issues or don’t they?

Downs said that he too had made a few calls, and had talked to a local veterinarian who had told him that the risks of owning chickens far outweighs the reward. Downs noted salmonella and Avian Flu as “just two” of the sicknesses that pass from the chicken to humans.

Keller brought much of the discussion to a close when he said, “there are risks to getting up in the morning.” He added that he felt the discussions now were being based on ‘unwarranted fears” and that the entire topic was being ‘over blown.”

However, in the end, aldermen did agree they were not ready to vote on the topic. There are still questions about enforcement of code, fees and fines and a few other items that need to be worked out.

City attorney John Hoblit was asked to continue working on some of these issues and amending the draft accordingly.

The topic will come back before the council at the next Committee of the Whole on July 15th.

[Nila Smith]

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