Ogden City Council debates backyard chickens, members split on issue

Thursday , December 07, 2017 - 5:00 AM8 comments

TIM VANDENACK, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — The simmering backyard chicken issue now sits in the lap of the Ogden City Council.

Where it goes, though, remains anybody’s guess. The city council debated whether to permit the backyard birds at a work session Tuesday, but with a formal decision yet to come, at least three of the seven council members still question the notion. Two others say they’re open to letting Ogden residents keep backyard chickens, and the precise views of two more are unclear.

RELATED: Ogden commission recommends against chicken ordinance, but measure still alive

“I don’t feel chickens belong in the city. I’ve generally felt that way,” Councilman Bart Blair, one of the skeptics, said Wednesday. Councilmen Richard Hyer and Doug Stephens also have their doubts.

Councilman Luis Lopez has been a strong backer all along — proponents tout the fresh eggs the chickens produce, among other things — and Marcia White, the council president, is also open to the notion.

“I’ve always been a proponent of chickens in the backyard as long as we come up with a fairly good ordinance that protects both those who want chickens and those who don’t,” White said.

The precise sentiments of councilmen Neil Garner and Ben Nadolski, meanwhile, remain unclear. Neither immediately returned calls Wednesday seeking comment, though at Tuesday’s work session they indicated more comfort with a proposed ordinance crafted by city planning staff than with an ordinance put forward by backyard chicken proponents.

The plan devised by city staff would allow up to six chickens in homeowner-occupied homes with at least 2,000 square feet of open backyard space. Each dog or cat in a household would reduce the allowable number of chickens by one.

RELATED: Urban chicken discussion packs Ogden council chambers

The proposal drafted by John and Liz Christiansen, chicken proponents who petitioned for action, would permit between two and 12 chickens, with no requirement on lot size. They sat in the audience listening during Tuesday’s meeting, with John Christiansen occasionally grumbling with displeasure at some of the points brought up by Ogden Planning Division Manager Greg Montgomery, who briefed council members on the matter before their discussion.

Afterward, John Christiansen expressed concern with the lot size provision in the city proposal, saying it would leave out many people. The Christiansens, leaders of the Ogden Chicken Alliance, keep chickens behind their Ogden home though prohibited by current city ordinance.

PROS, CONS, POLITICS

Officials took no formal action Tuesday. Rather, they called for the issue to be put on the agenda for the Dec. 19 city council meeting, when they could finally vote.

Proponents have pushed for action since at least last year, though the issue has popped up previously, and the Ogden Planning Commission, an advisory body, voted 7-1 last month to recommend against adopting an ordinance.

The city council, though, has final say. Here are a few more views from its members:

Stephens: He worries how any chicken ordinance, if approved, will be enforced. He also says officials, in weighing the proposal, need to consider their vision of the city in the future.

“I’m really not excited about having chickens in Ogden,” he said, expressing concern about the potential proliferation of raccoons, mice and disease brought on by the presence of chickens. He went on: “At the present time, I don’t think it’s a good fit for Ogden.”

Hyer: He worries that allowing chickens will lead to a push to permit other animals inside city limits that are typically found only on the farm, like pigs. “I am OK if we don’t have chickens in Ogden,” he said.

Lopez: The chicken proponent would like to see the backyard size requirement in the ordinance proposal from city staff eased, reduced to 1,000 square feet, perhaps. He also doesn’t like the provision that reduces the allowed number of chickens by the number of cats and dogs in a household.

Lopez and White have been the most steadfast proponents of permitting chickens, he continued, but it’s hard to gauge overall sentiment of council members.

White: Ogden is increasingly drawing people supportive of the farm-to-table movement, she thinks, and allowing backyard chickens fits with the shift.

Many in Ogden, like the Christiansens, already have chickens, regardless of the current prohibition, she noted, and she doesn’t think allowing the birds will lead to dramatic change. “It’s not going to be this proliferation of people wanting chickens,” she said.

Montgomery said that in three of the many cities that allow backyard chickens — North Ogden, Layton and Brigham City — only 0.5-0.9 percent of the population has them. In Weber County, the only cities that prohibit chickens are Ogden, South Ogden and Washington Terrace.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/TimVandenackReporter.

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