Proposed chicken ban ruffles feathers

Staff writer

Several residents spoke at Monday’s Marion City Council meeting about concerns about where to keep their chickens if the council passes a new code that would ban raising any fowl within the city limits for consumption.

“I’m here in support of chicken’s rights,” Caroline Kelly said.

Allen Stapleford and his wife raise 20 chickens at their home on S. Roosevelt St. He asked the council if his operation would be grandfathered in, or if he would have to get rid of his chickens after the code was passed.

“They’re my son’s FFA project and soon to be my daughter’s,” he said. “We have a coop, and they range in our backyard. We had a problem with them at first getting into neighbors’ yards, but we’ve clipped their wings and haven’t had a problem since.”

He said the flock also helps his neighbors because they dump their grass clippings in his yard and the chickens eat them.

Stapleford’s wife has multiple sclerosis and said the eggs raised by their chickens are better for her because they don’t contain growth hormones in them like most commercially raised eggs, which make her sick.

Doug and Virginia Lind also had questions about chickens.

“I have chickens, but I also have 5 acres down in the valley on the edge of town and I was just wondering if there was a way you could look at a case by case basis,” he said. “The current ordinance says you can have 20 hens without a rooster. Are we taking that whole ordinance out?”

Lind said before purchasing his chickens, he went to the city to see what the rules for having them were, and asked his neighbors if they were OK with him raising chickens.

“I’ve never had a complaint, never a single one of them about any of my chickens or the turkeys I have there,” Lind said.

Police Chief Tyler Mermis said he also has not received any complaints about chickens within city limits.

“My neighbors actually enjoy them,” Lind said.

His biggest concern is the city creating a blanket ordinance to address the issues when there are certain areas like his at the very edge of city limits and bordered by wheat fields where raising chickens would be appropriate.

“The way it reads is that you can’t eat them or their products for consumption. If you have 15 chickens, a chicken lays an egg every 25 hours, you’re going to have 13 eggs a day,” he said. “Can you eat 13 eggs a day? Are people who sell eggs going to get rich? No. They aren’t even covering their feed costs.”

Lind said he believes it’s important to have a starting dialogue on issues that could affect residents. He asked for the council to permit residents to see the rough draft of the code, which can be found at http://www.marionks.citycode.net, to see what possible changes could be passed into law.

“I think that’s what bothered a lot of us is that nobody else had seen it,” Virgina Lind said.

The code has not been passed. Council member Chad Adkins said he appreciates the comments because it helps him know what is important to people and for the council to develop a plan that works for everyone.

“At the work session we were simply going through the code and for some of us it was our first time to go through this code,” he said. “I would anticipate some changes. Your input and you coming here to give your input is how we make better decisions.”

Because the situations between the Linds and Stapleton are so different, Adkins said it would be hard to cover both adequately with a blanket ordinance.

Mayor Todd Heitschmidt said the section of code pertaining to chickens could be changed to suit the city’s needs. Solutions proposed included the possibility of grandfathering existing chicken operations in the city, or requiring chicken owners to have a permit.

“You’ll have the opportunity to address this in a public forum before the code is passed,” he said. “We are making changes in the code so it will be several meetings from now before we vote on it. We can keep you all informed to when that is so you can speak.”

Doug Lind also had issues with business licenses proposed in the code.

“I am a big participant for the farmers market here in town,” he said. “I was selling on Main St. before there was a farmer’s market. I do it as a hobby.”

Licenses are currently required for anyone selling in city limits except for at farmers markets. This includes someone selling produce off Main St. and door-to-door sales people.

“Some require a booth fee but the city’s have no involvement in it and I’m afraid that if the city requires people to have a license for farmers market then the venders you do have, you’re not going to,” Doug Lind said.

Doug Lind enquired why have an ordinance if you’re not going to enforce it.

“We have a lot of ordinances that are outdated or are only enforced when someone doesn’t like someone or something’s gone awry,” he said. “Can the police honestly tell me they know all the ordinances they should enforce?”

Mermis said more than once officers have had to spend hours trying to find a specific ordinance, and hope the new code will eliminate out of date ordinances and combine things so they’re easier to understand for everyone.

Holter said that is what this process is for, to compile all the city ordinances and code into one easily accessible and searchable document online. For many Marion residents who do not have Internet, a copy of the code can be found at the city building and is much smaller than the five 4-inch notebooks currently housing city law.

Doug Lind asked if things like Girl Scouts selling cookies or lemonade stands would be required to take out a permit before operating.

“I think we’re opening a real Pandora’s box,” Doug Lind said.

Heitschmidt said the city has to start somewhere and that a public hearing will be held before the code is voted into law.

“My biggest worry is that you council don’t try to make a blanket ordinance to fix individual problems,” Virgina Lind said.

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