The Marion City Council couldn’t answer the age-old question about which came first, the chicken or the egg, but at its meeting May 9, chickens did get a favorable nod.
The ordinance will allow residents to have up to 20 female chickens or hens, but no roosters will be allowed, according to Mayor Todd Heitschmidt.
“That is what we had before (in the ordinance) and it worked,” he said. “We really didn’t have a problem with up to 20 hens until neighbors weren’t getting along.”
At the March 28 meeting, Nick and Ann Hett, 713 S. Roosevelt, addressed the council about chicken odors and feathers entering his backyard.
Hett also asked about dogs off-leash in the owners personal property.
Alan Stapleford, the neighbor the Hetts expressed concerns about, attended the April 11 council meeting to find out what the issues were regarding his chickens.
At that time, Stapleford said: “I don’t know what I need to do to make the issue go away, besides getting rid of the chickens.”
When he was asked how many chickens he had, Stapleford said 17.
Heitschmidt said the overall feeling is that whatever the pet—chickens, dogs or cats—that the city allows residents to have in town it can’t look like a farmyard.
“I think there are some concerns at your property,” Heitschmidt said. “The big thing that was brought to my attention is that (your property) is a property that doesn’t fit with what our neighbors want to have.”
City Attorney Susan Robson said she would review a memo to the council members about chickens and dog leash laws.
Residents flocked to show their support for keeping chickens in the city.
Jeremy Ensey said he has chickens, which his family owned long before moving to Marion from Valley Center.
“Before we moved to Marion, it was one of the things we looked up as far as chickens and what was allowed,” he said. “Our daughter religiously feeds, waters, takes care of them, collects the eggs, tracks how many, and then gives some to neighbors.”
Ensey said he realized the chicken dispute started with a dispute between neighbors,
Raising chickens, Ensey said, depends on how the birds are managed.
“We had one problem when chickens were getting out, and scratching the neighbors flowers and in their garden, but we took care of the problem.
“There’s a big urban movement,” he said, “and in doing a quick search on Internet, I found Wichita allows 12 chickens, Kansas City, 15, and Lawrence up to 20.”
Other more densely populated areas such as Des Moines allows 30 chickens and Los Angeles allows an unlimited amount of hens.
“What I’m saying is that in urban areas, they are allowing chickens, and we live in rural America and we are saying kind of the opposite,” he said. “I think it’s possible to have chickens in your backyard and be a good neighbor, too.”
He added: “Neighbors might not even know you have chickens in the backyard.”
Another resident, Margaret Wilson, said she was at the meeting two weeks ago, and the council had a list of good things to talk about, such as cleaning up Marion Reservoir, pulling weeds at the park, planting flowers and the community garden.
“We had a celebration in the park last week, and we heard good things about the Elgin Hotel,” she said. “I just find it hard to believe that you can’t allow good things like chickens.”
She said Circles of Marion County encourages self-sufficiency in neighbor- hoods.
“There’s a family (near where I live) and they are raising five granddaughters by their own choice,” Wilson said. “I hear little happy hen sounds. I would like for us to be good neighbors, and I think we can have a balance, as long as we are good neighbors.”
Margo Yates. director of Parks and Recreation in the city, said she thinks the first three items of the ordinance should be removed dealing with the amount of hens and prohibiting other kinds of foul.
“I think the city should ask that chickens be kept clean and odor free,” she added. “I’m not saying residents can’t have them, they just have them so they are not a nuisance.”
Sharon James said she believes chickens are no different then any other creature.
“The difference is how to manage the animal and manage your neighbor,” she said.
James guaranteed her chickens don’t make that kind of noise.
She also said she agrees the ordinance should be passed, and if someone is outside the guidelines, then the nuisance policy should go into effect.
Following the public comments, City Attorney Susan Robson asked about the distances away from a neighbors property, and how would this be enforced.
After discussing the issue with Robson, the council decided to amend the ordinance.
Heitschmidt said: “I don’t see (counting chickens) to make sure somebody is in compliance. I think there has to be a complaint like the last time.”
The vote passed 4-1 with Chris Costello casting the dissenting vote.