Elkhart shelving urban chickens, but hopes to fix rule on firepits

Elkhart City Council member said the law restricting fires is a “ridiculous situation.”

(Dan Spalding/The Elkhart Truth)
Posted on July 10, 2014 at 5:54 p.m.

ELKHART — Talk of an urban chicken ordinance has quieted, but the Elkhart City Council could be looking at another ordinance driven by backyard trends.

The popularity of firepit kits has sparked interest in revising Elkhart’s policy covering backyard camp fires.

City council member Mary Olson said she wants to have a dialogue with the public on the topic and thinks revising existing policy might be necessary.

The city currently allows residents to have small fires on their property after obtaining a permit, but those fires can be doused with just one call from anyone who complains about it.

Olson, a longtime Republican on the council, said she thinks that policy is too restrictive.

She said she’s aware of a situation where one person has shut down the use of a firepit with a phone call.

That’s done by contacting the fire department, which then comes out to the site and requires the fire be extinguished.

“That’s kind of a ridiculous situation,” Olson said.

She said part of her interest in revising the policy is the increased popularity of do-it-yourself firepit kits that are commonly sold in stores.

Olson said she sees a distinction between a campfire and a firepit, the latter of which she believes is more controlled in terms of size.

Permits for small controlled fires are available through the fire department. A single event permit is $20 while a season-long permit is $100, according to a spokesperson at the fire department.

Meanwhile, a plan to introduce an ordinance that would permit the keeping of a limited number of chickens in backyard coops appears to be on a back burner.

Councilman Brian Dickerson said he reached out to a council member and other officials who he believed had expressed interest in revising the animal control ordinance, but has not heard back.

If the council does begin to consider any changes to the animal ordinance, Dickerson said he’d raise the issue.

Otherwise, he said he would not bring up the proposal on its own this year.

He said earlier this year that numerous city residents had contacted him suggesting the idea.

The concept of allowing small-scale chicken operations has been a growing trend in urban areas for several years.

South Bend established a policy last year permitting urban chickens. The Goshen City Council approved a policy that would be reviewed next year.

In Warsaw, the city council looked at two proposals, but killed a more restrictive version earlier this year.

Most of the concerns by those who oppose the idea are driven by worries that the presence of chickens could hurt property values and cause an unpleasant smell.

Council president Ron Troyer was asked about urban chickens proposal and he said he believes council has more pressing issues to consider this summer.


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