Columbia residents squawk about chickens

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(Editor’s note: Portions of this article from last week were inadvertently cut from the print edition, so we are running the segment about backyard chickens again in full with added comment from residents.)

The Columbia City Council cried fowl at the Nov. 2 meeting concerning the keeping of domestic chickens within city limits.

At the Sept. 21 meeting, Columbia Director of Community Development Scott Dunakey was asked to examine how the city might handle chickens at individual residences. After discussing the matter Nov. 2, the council decided against proceeding with a possible ordinance allowing “backyard chickens.”

Dunakey described two methods of allowing chickens, either through permit or zoning, neither of which he believed would be a burden to enforce or implement.

After describing possible regulations, the aldermen discussed the idea, ultimately taking a straw poll to determine overall interest. Only two of eight aldermen were in favor of drafting an ordinance, leading Columbia Mayor Kevin Hutchinson to advise Dunakey to abandon the project.

Ward III Alderman Jeff Huch noted the reason for the issue being brought before the council was a resident who had been keeping chickens and that “in the short period of time they had (the chickens), every neighbor was opposed to it.”

With only Ward I Alderman James Agne Ward IV and Alderman Steve Holtkamp in favor of allowing domestic chickens, no further action will be taken.

Hutchinson wondered whether action would need to be taken in order to have “an official no,” but he was advised city code already addresses the issue and meeting minutes will reflect the council’s view.

Last week, Kendra Nowak and her mother Helen Nowak, residents of the property that brought the matter of chickens to the council’s attention, contacted the Republic-Times to object to Huch’s claims that all neighbors were against the keeping of chickens.

Kendra said her mother had kept the chickens and the reason city officials were contacted was to inquire about the legality of domestic chickens in city limits – not to lodge a complaint.

“A neighbor called the city to ask for clarification of city code” regarding chickens, Kendra said, adding the code was “equivocal” because it prohibits keeping “fowl” without specification and later states that “filthy chicken coops” are an ordinance violation, leading the Nowaks to believe keeping chickens was allowed.

The city sent a letter to the Nowaks advising they had 30 days to remove chickens from the property, which they did.

Kendra said her mother had neighbors sign a statement saying the chickens were not a problem, with all but one signing.

“My mother cleaned the coop every other day,” Kendra said, also claiming other people in the city have chickens and commenting that ordinance violations such as barking dogs and loose cats in the city happen regularly but are not enforced.

She also said she reached out to Ward I Alderman Jay Riddle and he said he had received “no complaints.” Kendra said Huch’s comments were a “flat-out falsehood” and he shouldn’t have spoken on the issue since he is the alderman for a different ward – although his mother does live close to the property in question.

Helen said Huch’s statements were “in no way correct” and wondered why the council had such a sudden change of heart about the issue considering Dunakey had reported that other municipalities that allow domestic chickens did not have many problems.

“It seems like everyone was on board until the (informal Nov. 2) vote and then it changed all of a sudden,” Helen said noting that in a previous meeting, only two aldermen showed hesitancy to allowing chickens.

She also said she and Kendra tried to reach Huch several times to no avail.

“I think (Huch) knows he put his foot in his mouth,” Helen added.

Neither Huch nor Riddle could be reached by the Republic-Times for further comment as of press time.

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