Councilman Nathan Mahrt personally favored a request to have chickens in Denison but said he received numerous calls from people opposed.
Councilman Nathan Mahrt personally favored a request to have chickens in Denison but said he received numerous calls from people opposed.
July 3, 2013


Denison city councilmen said they personally support a young woman's desire to raise chickens in town, but the overwhelming negative response from residents in the past month will lead them to kill the idea.

"There might be a time for this, but public opinion needs to change," Councilman Nathan Mahrt said at the council's Tuesday meeting. "We're not being representatives if we're going against public opinion."

Resident Meriah Summerfield, 25, sought an exception last month to a Denison law that prohibits livestock in town. She wants three or four chickens for pets. Under the law, the city council can grant permission to have the animals on a case-by-case basis.

But City Attorney Rick Franck found since last month's meeting that the city code conflicts with itself. A zoning ordinance forbids livestock with no exceptions, which means the council would have to amend the zoning code to grant Summerfield's request.

Instead, the council members - who said they received numerous calls from residents who oppose chickens - decided to amend city law to remove its own authority to grant an exception.

"I feel that we have egg on our face," said Councilman Pete Rodriguez, who supported Summerfield's request.

Summerfield said after the meeting that her fellow residents don't grasp the concept of so-called "urban chickens," which has been a trend across the country in the past few years.

"They imagine the worst scenario possible and can't move past that," she wrote in an email this morning. "It is not a farming operation or about being overrun by them. They are a pet that provides and like other pets needs to be contained and maintained."

Urban chicken ordinances that have been adopted in cities large and small - such as Cedar Rapids in 2010 and Lake City last year - have allowed residents to have up to six hens per residential lot. Many people who have the backyard birds raise them to get eggs to eat.

Denison city leaders wrestled with some of the same arguments against chickens that have been raised elsewhere - that they would be noisy, smelly and disease-ridden and could open the door to other, larger livestock in town.

"Personally, it doesn't bother me," Councilman Dan Leinen said Tuesday of raising chickens. "I've been there, done that, seen it. ... But even with my (agriculture) background, knowing it would be all right, you can't ignore public opinion."

Mayor Dennis Fineran also contended last month that allowing chickens in town would make it less attractive to new residents.

"I don't see why keeping a few urban chickens would sway people from moving to Denison," Summerfield wrote. "I have not heard of people not wanting to live in Omaha, Iowa City or other communities that do allow them. People already have them and they are not a problem, I just wanted to do it legally."

Mahrt left open the possibility of reconsidering the idea in the future if public opinion changes. He said advocates for urban chickens in other cities have waged a many-years public information campaign to make the change.

Summerfield was unsure whether she would continue to push the idea.

Council members are expected to take three votes in the coming months to amend city law to remove their discretion to allow chickens.