The current city code prohibits the harboring of chickens within the city limits, Great Bend City Attorney Allen Glendenning said, addressing the City Council Monday night. But, recently citizens have expressed a desire to keep “backyard chickens” in the city, arguing the present regulations don’t ban the birds.
So, to clarify the city’s will to prohibit chickens, the council Monday approved a revised ordinance specifically prohibiting the fowl. However, it passed on a 4-3 vote with some council members sympathetic to those wanting to keep chickens on their properties.
It was at the May 15 meeting that Kathryn Schaffner and others addressed the council about the ordinance referencing chickens and how unclear the ordinance is written. Other citizens voiced their opinion supporting chickens in city limits.
“I respect the passion on both sides of the argument,” Ward 2 Councilman Kevyn Soupiset said Monday night. “I’ve battled with this personally up until we started the meeting tonight.”
One of those who voted against the ban, Soupiset floated the idea of allowing chickens for a six month or one-year trial.
However, Ward 2 Councilwoman Jolene Biggs said she feared this would overtax the Code Enforcement and Police departments, as well as the Golden Belt Humane Society. “They don’t have the manpower.”
Biggs opposed the idea at the May 15 meeting and asked Glendenning to draw up the ordinance.
Ward 1 Councilwoman Lindsey Krom-Craven and Ward 4 Councilwoman Natalie Towns agreed with Biggs. “If you chose to live in the city, you chose city life,” Krom-Craven said.
Towns suggested the issue could be put on a ballot, so if there were any additional cost related to the practice, the taxpayers would have to sign off on them.
All three said the majority of constituents they talked to them opposed the idea.
But, “times are changing,” said Ward 3 Councilman Davis Jimenez. There are already chickens in the city, and it is time for the city to accept this.
Schaffner presented the council with a petition carrying the signatures of 95 Great Bend residents in favor of chickens. Mayor Cody Schmidt said if this was indeed a popular notion, there should have been more names.
Biggs, Towns, Krom-Craven and Ward 3 Councilman Cory Urban voted for the new ban. Jimenez, Soupiset and Ward 1 Councilman Alan Moeder voted against it.
The new ordinance reads “it is unlawful for any person to own, harbor or keep within the city any wild or domestic animal, fowl, bird and reptile.” There are exceptions for the zoo, dogs and cats, household pets, and veterinarians.
It also prohibits animals running at large.
“While the (existing) ordinances on their face might be argued to be less than 100% clear, the history of the ordinances makes clear that the intent of the city council was to prohibit chickens,” Glendenning wrote in a memo to the council. There was a section that allowed for permitting and regulating chickens, but that was removed in 2001 at the request of the city sanitarian due to health concerns.
Those supporting the keeping of chickens argued they fell under the household pet exception, the memo noted. But, “it is doubtful that chickens constitute a ‘household pet’ as they fall within the Kansas statutory definition of livestock,” Glendenning said.
Also, he noted, it was clear the council intended to prohibit chickens when the 2001 amendment was approved.
He said he looked at ordinances from 13 cities of various sizes, which provided a good sampling.
“No one, not even the chicken enthusiasts, wants chickens to become a nuisance by running at large, making excessive noise or emitting offensive orders, dust or refuse,” he noted. “Great Bend already has in place general prohibitions on running at large or maintaining a nuisance, as do all the other cities I looked at.
“Great Bend also has some code provisions regarding keeping any animal enclosure clean, sanitary and pest free and removing animal waste on a regular basis,” he said. “Those would all apply to chickens as well.”
Where the birds were allowed, there were such stipulations as requiring enclosures, limiting numbers, mandating set backs and allowing only hens, not roosters.
“There are also health concerns related to backyard chickens. They can transmit a variety of illnesses to humans,” he noted.
Lastly, he said there would be enforcement issues.
“Establishing ownership of chickens found running at large would likely be more difficult than with dogs,” he said. “Also, the city’s animal control authority may not be equipped to impound and care for chickens.”
Should the city have wanted to move forward with allowing chickens, Glendenning advised input be sought from the Barton County Health Department and Golden Belt Humane Society (which has noted it is opposed the idea of allowing chickens).
“If the city council desires to continue the ban on harboring chickens, it can take no action, stand on the existing code and allow any arguments about its interpretation to be handled in the courts,” he said. Or the council can pass an ordinance that addresses the arguments being made and clarifies that harboring chickens is not allowed within the city limits.
“If the council desires to allow the harboring of chickens, then it should discuss and give some direction on whether it wishes the harboring of chickens to be limited and regulated and, if so what limitations and regulations are desired and an ordinance can be drafted and submitted at a later meeting,” he said.