Urban chicken debate sparked in Elkhart

Goshen and South Bend have adopted policies, and Warsaw's city council could vote later this month.

Posted on May 10, 2014 at 5:00 a.m.

ELKHART — Could Elkhart be one of the next Indiana communities to consider allowing chickens in residential areas?

City councilman Brian Dickerson said he’d like to see the council at least consider the idea.

Dickerson said he’s received numerous calls from people who said they are interested in raising chickens in their backyard if the city would lift its existing ban.

Right now, the city treats chickens as any other type of farm animal that is prohibited in the city.

But raising chickens has become popular and many towns and cities have adjusted their ordinances to permit the practice on a small scale.

South Bend began permitting chickens a year ago. Goshen has begun a pilot program, and Warsaw's city council could soon vote on a revised plan after an original proposal failed to hatch enough support.

Other communities such as Hamlet, Cumberland, Indianapolis, Bloomington and Gary already allow urban chickens.

The popularity — aside from the appeal of having fresh eggs from your backyard — coincides with a national movement that favors locally produced food. One story at worldwatch.org suggests chickens have become the “buy local” mascot.

But there has been some pushback.

The city of Grand Rapids, Mich., banned urban chickens in 2010, and earlier this year, a new ruling by the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development effectively removed Right to Farm Act protections for many urban and suburban backyard farmers raising small numbers of animals,” according to a story at inquisitr.com.

In Elkhart, Dickerson, a first-term Republican, thinks council should look at the idea. He hasn't submitted a proposal, but he’s contacted members of Goshen city council and wants to look at their plan.

“Urban farming is huge right now and there’s no reason the city of Elkhart should not allow its citizens to do it,” Dickerson said. “This is one of those next steps that says Elkhart is a friendly place to live.

“I believe this can be done inside the city of Elkhart in a way that doesn’t infringe on property rights of neighboring individuals."

Passage of a policy in Elkhart — as in many communities — would not be simple.

The topic of urban chickens came up four years ago when Elkhart revamped its animal control ordinance after lengthy debate.

Council president Ron Troyer asked about the idea last week and seemed to recoil at the notion of opening up the animal control ordinance again to consider chickens.

Mayor Dick Moore also sounded less than enthused.

“I am not convinced it is the right thing for Elkhart,” Moore said in an email. “While we try to maintain some of our history and enjoy thinking of the past, we have become pretty urbanized.”

Police Cpl. Dennis Russell, one of the city’s two animal control officers, said they receive occasional complaints about chickens in the city. Most of the complaints pertain to just the existence of the animals, noise from roosters and occasionally a chicken running loose.

He said he knows of cases where people have tried to keep them in garages and basements.

Overall, concerns often associated with urban chickens involve potential smell and impact on property values.

Others worry about noise, but none of the area ordinances permit roosters, which are the main source of noise and also bring along concerns about cockfighting.

Ordinances in South Bend and Goshen prohibit the sale of eggs.

Goshen approved plans in April for a two-year pilot run that would permit 50 residents to try it. More than 25 were already on a waiting list when the city began accepting applications Thursday. The police department is overseeing implementation of the program.

In South Bend, officials have not received any complaints since it started a year ago, said Matt Harmon, director of the South Bend Animal Care and Control.

More than 35 homeowners have filled out applications for permits for urban chickens, and Harmon said those include about ten so far this year.

“I would say it’s going just as good, if not better than, expected. We’ve got people specifically saying they moved into the city because we have the ability to have urban chickens,” said Harmon, who has chickens of his own.

Under Warsaw’s new proposal, anyone wanting to have chickens would have to attend a class and keep a permit attached to the coop. The pilot plan would be open to the first 25 who sign up and the ordinance would be reviewed in 2016, said city planner Jeremy Skinner.

Skinner said he thinks the proposal will eventually pass but might need further changes. City council could vote on it May 19.

“I think a lot of it is perception,” Skinner said.

Comparably, he added, “I don’t think it’s anything more than (having) a dog or multiple cats on somebody’s property.”


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