Chickens to roost in Columbia?

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The Columbia City Council was not talking turkey at its Monday meeting, but it was talking chicken.

The council had a preliminary discussion about potentially allowing residents to keep outdoor chickens within city limits.

Public input on the issue of allowing was overwhelmingly positive. Several citizens had written comments to be read at the meeting showing support for residents being able to keep hens – but not roosters – as backyard animals.

Public input also included examples of nearby cities, such as Kirkwood, Mo., that allow chickens. Waterloo was also mentioned, although having residential chickens in the city limits in a non-agricultural zone is currently against city code.

Ward IV Alderman Mary Ellen Niemietz was opposed to the idea, sharing that she had a negative experience when she lived by a neighbor who raised chickens. She also said she knew many other people who would be opposed to the idea. 

Ward III Alderman Gene Ebersohl also displayed hesitancy at the idea when Columbia Mayor Kevin Hutchinson asked if anyone would be opposed to the drafting of an ordinance allowing chickens at residential properties.

Ward I Alderman James Agne asked what could be done if issues arose from people who created a problem for neighbors as a result of having the animals. Hutchinson replied it would be handled as a nuisance complaint. 

Since a majority of the council was not opposed to considering a potential ordinance change, Columbia Director of Community Development Scott Dunakey will begin drafting language to be brought before the Columbia Plan Commission. 

The ordinance to allow chickens in a residential area would be a zoning code amendment and must be presented and discussed with the plan commission and recommended for approval to the city council and then discussed and voted on by the council before any change could take effect.

During the aldermanic comments portion of the meeting, Niemietz mentioned to the council she had been receiving communications regarding video gambling machines in the city. There was some confusion about the amount of establishments that could operate video gaming machines. 

Hutchinson said there is no limit on the number of places in the city that could operate, but there are restrictions on what type of establishments could house video gambling.

In early 2018, the council approved a change to the city’s liquor code that effectively disallowed “gaming parlors” and prohibited  gas stations in the city from operating video gambling machines. No limit was ever set on the number of venues that could allow the machines provided they meet city requirements.

In other business, Columbia City Engineer Chris Smith reported that new bids had been received for the Quarry Road resurfacing project. The bids were taken after bids in June were rejected for being over the project budget. The council will vote to approve bids at its next meeting.

The council approved a resolution to levy a .02 percent of the value of the taxable property in the city for Columbia Public Library building and equipment purposes. 

Also approved was an ordinance to adopt a variance permit for Lucky Dog’s Lodge allowing the establishment of a “pet lodge” at 1945 Westgate Drive, which is a BP-2 business park district. A pet lodge provides boarding, grooming or retail services and is not permitted in a BP-2 zone without a zoning variance being passed.

Referring to a discussion of a potential city dog park from the Sept. 8 meeting, Niemietz said she received feedback from the council’s discussion. She felt the city needed more thorough discussion of the size and location of a potential dog park in order to ensure the creation of a project that would be attractive to citizens.

Also at the Sept. 8 meeting, the council discussed a request from the owners of Reifschneider’s Grill and Grape and R’Casa restaurants to close side streets near the businesses for two weeks on East Voges Street and East Walnut Street, respectively, to allow tents to be erected for outside dining. 

The council decided to approve the request and defer to city professionals and police and fire departments regarding the need for modifications to the requests, adding the closures could be revoked at any time per staff determination.

Hutchinson noted that “this isn’t a one size fits all” situation and the city was in “uncharted territory” regarding business operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that if “businesses work with us” in adapting to changing circumstances “we’ll work with them.”

Hutchinson opened the Sept. 8 meeting by urging citizens to continue to support local businesses, especially while the weather is still conducive to outside dining.

When the area begins to experience colder fall and winter weather, Hutchinson warned “it’s going to be an economical cold” that business may catch if COVID-19 restrictions are still in place.

Petitions for elected city positions are now available for circulation. Columbia City Clerk Wes Hoeffken said petitions for the April 6 election for the Columbia offices of mayor, city clerk, and aldermen Wards 1-4 may be circulated beginning Sept. 22. The filing window for petitions at the city clerk’s office is Dec. 14-21.

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