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Urban hens would be good eggs

A group would like Goshen to change the rules to allow people to have a few hens inside city limits.

Posted on May 29, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

GOSHEN — A group of people is working to get the confusing Goshen rules changed to allow people to keep a few hens in order to have their own eggs.

As it stands, there are two sets of city rules, and the more restrictive of those sets treats chickens the same as horses, pigs or cattle.

“I would like to see anybody who wants to keep chickens be able to have a few hens. They’re very simple, having a cheap source of protein is great, knowing where your food comes from is very important,” said Jenny Frech. Frech supports the idea not because she’s in the city, but because she knows what it’s like, living outside the city limits with four hens. “We get the eggs, which is fantastic. The hens have a lot of personality,” she said.

Heather Horst lives on the city’s south side and was excited to get her own hens. “I was a vegan for 20 years,” she said, but learned that medically she needs animal-based protein. She’s been buying eggs at the Goshen Farmer’s Market, but “I want to be in a more direct relationship with my food, to have food that’s not only locally produced, but really locally.”

Because she met the requirements of the 1958 city code — 150 feet from the nearest neighboring house, no running free and no odors — she thought her yard, with a borrowed chicken enclosure, would be perfect to show the city that a few hens aren’t noisy or smelly.

Then she learned of the zoning ordinance. That requires any non-pet animals to be at least 500 feet from a residence or even a residential zoning boundary.

People can get the Board of Zoning Appeals to grant a waiver, but filing the request costs $200, and that doesn’t guarantee success.

The city has to publish a legal notice of the hearing and notifies area residents. While Horst said her neighbors support her idea, she’s not sure she can get the BZA approval.

“As much as I had hoped to promote a new ordinance by demonstrating happy urban hens, I’m afraid we will have to have a new ordinance in order to demo happy urban hens,” she wrote to other members of the Hens for Goshen group on Facebook.

John Nafziger, another group member, has drafted a proposal for a new ordinance. It would:

Ÿ Limit the number to no more than four hens at single-family homes, and none in multi-family homes.

Ÿ Prohibit roosters.

Ÿ Prohibit outside slaughtering of birds.

Ÿ Require the hens to be kept in a secure enclosure.

Ÿ Require enclosures to be kept clean and neat.

Ÿ Relax the distance rules, to allow enclosures within 25 feet of neighboring homes.

Other cities have more relaxed regulations on urban chickens. Yoder said she knows Bloomington allows them, but “it takes a lot of compliance time, once they have an ordinance, to make sure people follow the ordinance,” she said.

Group members have also heard concerns about competing with the farmer’s market, but Horst pointed out that a member of the market’s board is part of the group. “I think the farmer’s market will do just fine if a handful of residents raise their own,” she said in an interview.

Horst believes it would be worth changing the city’s rules. “If we were talking about large-scale concentration camps, I can understand not wanting to be around that, she said, but she’s talking about having “a few birds where the waste can be handled without odor.”

Horst also pointed out, “A hen’s not going to bite you like a loose dog would.”

Hens, unlike roosters, don’t crow, and they can eat garden scraps and add fertilizer for gardens and yards. “It’s a sustainability concept, and just a pleasure to think of having this new crop,” she said.

Frech said they’re easy animals to raise. “As long as the chickens are able to get some fresh air and able to scratch around, they’re happy little campers,” she said.


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