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Athens awaits amendment to chicken raising laws

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City residents may soon add chickens to their list of local animals.

Community members in Athens are proposing the Athens City Council amend city ordinances to allow chickens to be raised within city limits.

Raising chickens within city limits is already legal, but city code requires that any enclosures must be at least 100 feet from any and all property lines.

“It is not just 100 feet from anywhere in the back yard,” John Paszke, director of the Code Enforcement and Community Development Office, said. “It is 100 feet from back to front and side to side. That equals about one acre.”

The amendment has been proposed by community group CACKLE. They are revisiting a topic that council faced before three years ago. The planning commission rejected the idea of “urban chickens” when citizens brought the proposal forward in 2010, but CACKLE is hopeful that this new change will appease both city code and neighbors.

The amendment will scale back the distance requirement from 100 feet to 15 feet, and allow citizens to buy permits to house four hens, as roosters are too noisy for city living, for an annual fee of $25. The amendment will not change the requirement to keep the animals in a building, however.

In 2010, city council was faced with allowing “chicken tractors” within city limits. Essentially a chicken coop on wheels, a chicken tractor would be a mobile building that would house chickens as they live in the yard. The hut would be moved throughout the yard to spread the fertilizer produced by the chickens. The planning commission advised against revision of the city code, citing loud noise possibilities and city financial strain.

CACKLE member Erik Peterson spoke to city council about adjusting city code. He cited cities within Ohio that allow chickens within city limits, such as Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland. Columbus city health code covers various stipulations for housing animals, such as housing conditions for animals, disposing of deceased animal, and disposing of waste from certain animals. Homeowners are also required to apply and keep a permit (written permission) from the city health commissioner. Peterson said that if major concerns were detrimental to those cities, they would have rejected the proposal to raise fowl in town.

More considerations were addressed by Athens City-County Health Department Administrator Chuck Hammer. Those considerations discussed the negative aspects of allowing chickens in town. He stated that the number of problems increase or become more varied when the amount of land available for raising them is depleted. Also, small lots for raising any animal, especially poultry, make manure matters worse.

One other large concern for many council members included code enforcement. At-Large Rep. Chris Knisely focused on the disease aspect of raising animals, primarily the transmission of salmonella. Fourth Ward Rep. Chris Fahl also mentioned that Athens lacks an animal control officer; however, CACKLE proposed that the revenue from the annual fee could be applied to the pay for an animal control officer. A further concern involved spilled feed attracting wild animals, such as raccoons or possums.

Paszke said there is a penalty for violating the 100-feet boundary rule as long as the offender is seen.

“No one needs to complain; if we see something, we will shut them down and address the matter,” Paszke said.

He also said the maximum penalty for violating a zoning code ruling is $500 a day, but normally the courts will decide a punishment.

“No one has attempted to raise chickens yet; if they do, we will find out and tell them to get rid of them,” Paske said.


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