IOWA CITY – Iowa City moved closer Tuesday night to allowing people to keep chickens in their backyards, but supporters should be careful not to count their chickens before they hatch.
The City Council voted 5-2 on each of the first considerations of two ordinances related to what are often called backyard or urban chickens. Two more readings of each are necessary for the ordinances to pass. One would change the city’s zoning code to allow chickens in city limits and the other would establish a permit process.
Even if those are approved, the council still must vote on a policy laying out the regulations chicken owners would have to follow. And council members were divided on an aspect of that.
Mayor Matt Hayek said he was not sure he would support a policy unless it required people who want chickens to get permission from their neighbors. Connie Champion agreed.
Michelle Payne and Terry Dickens cast the dissenting votes, saying the vast majority of people they had spoken with were opposed to backyard chickens. Four votes would provide the majority needed to defeat a backyard chicken policy.
Council members Susan Mims and Rick Dobyns said they would not support neighbor veto power. Mims said no other zoning issue in the city gives people such authority.
The backyard chicken issue has been discussed in the community for years and was the subject of two petitions asking the city to allow chickens in town.
If chickens were allowed, Iowa City would join Cedar Rapids, Mount Vernon, and other towns across Iowa and the nation that let people keep chickens in city limits.
More than a dozen supporters – many of them wearing small, red paper cutouts of chickens on their shirts – were at City Hall Tuesday night. They said chickens would provide a local source for food, be environmentally friendly, educational for kids and promote healthy food.
“We need to make sure that our food is the most healthful that it could be,” said Shannon Gassman of Iowa City.
Opponents, however, worried about the possible noise, smell and general nuisance of having chickens near them and said organic eggs are easy to get in the Iowa City area.
Jay Honohan of Iowa City doubted the alleged superiority of eggs from backyard chickens.
“You’re looking at a guy who’s 82 and I’ve been eating those eggs at Hy-Vee all my life,” he told the council.
The preliminary policy would require a permit and says no more than four hens would be allowed, and no roosters. There also would be regulations against slaughtering chickens and selling eggs and governing the use and location of coops.
BAR PROXIMITY RULE
The city will explore making changes to a rule that requires drinking establishments be a certain distance from each other.
Currently, there must be at least 500 feet between drinking establishments. The law went into effect in 2009, and existing bars and restaurants were exempt, so it applies to places that have opened since then.
The 500-foot rule covers the entire city, but at a work session Tuesday night, City Council members said they were interested in exempting outlying areas of town.
City staff was charged with coming up with ideas for where it would remain in effect, but the discussion Tuesday made clear downtown and the area around the University of Iowa campus are likely to still be covered. The law was passed in response to concerns about binge drinking at downtown bars.
A drinking establishment under the 500-foot rule is a business with a liquor license whose primary activity is the sale of food or alcohol and is open after midnight.
Council member Terry Dickens raised the idea of easing restrictions outside of the downtown area, saying restaurant and bar owners said it made it more difficult to open establishments on the edge of town.
Wary of the bar scene shifting away from downtown, council members said they were interested in there being some sort of density formula to prevent several drinking establishments from opening next to each other elsewhere in town.