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Keokuk Approves Urban Chickens Despite Supporters' Concerns

steve p2008
Keokuk will allow residents to own up to five chickens within city limits

Keokuk residents will soon be allowed to legally raise chickens in their backyards, as long as they follow certain requirements. It’s those requirements, though, that are ruffling some feathers.

The city council approved the final two votes of the “urban chicken” ordinance Thursday night. Residents must obtain a permit from the city because they can start purchasing chickens, which requires:

  • Inspection by Code Enforcement Officer
  • Payment of Permit Fee (First year - $100/Annual renewal - $75)
  • No nuisances on property
  • Single family residence only
  • Express written consent of all abutting property owner
  • Complete video training

Once they have done all that, residents will be able to have no more than five hens (no roosters) with access to food, water and shelter. Plus the chickens cannot be slaughtered and eggs must be removed within two days.
Marie Rogers of Keokuk told aldermen she plans to raise chickens in her back yard. She said the health benefits of backyard eggs are extensive, especially for a two-time cancer survivor like herself.

“It is the utmost importance to me to be able to obtain the best food I can for my health,” said Rogers. “Not only are back-yard chicken eggs superior in nutrition, chickens are beneficial to the environment by helping to reduce rodents and insects, reducing organic waste and providing nutrient-rich urban compost.”

Despite her enthusiasm, Rogers asked aldermen to delay the final votes on the proposal because she had and fellow supporters of the urban chicken idea had some concerns. She said the $75 annual permit fee was too high and that residents should not need neighbor permission to raise chickens.

“There’s nothing else that you can do on your property that you have to get someone’s permission,” said Rogers. “You can paint your house bright green, you can put up a fence, get a dog. You can do all kinds of things without having to get permission from your neighbor. You might have to get permission from the city, but you don’t have to get permission from your neighbors. I think that’s crossing the line, giving someone else that kind of control.”

2nd Ward Alderman Mike Moore agreed with Rogers about the high price of the permit and about the neighbor complaints.

“That is a very good point with your neighbors because I know I don’t get along with one of my neighbors and I know he would say no.”

Aldermen seemed willing to reconsider the fee, possibly dropping it to $25/year. But they were hesitant to eliminate the neighbor consent requirement after city staff said it was added because of how close the chicken coops and pens could be to abutting properties.

3rd Ward Alderman Ron Payne said neighbors will have a clear view as to whether the chickens are being properly cared for.

“I understand the concern about someone who has it in for you, but by chance, the 1% who don’t (care for their chickens like) they are supposed to do, I think the neighbors should be heard,” said Payne. “I don’t want to put them completely out of the picture.”

Keokuk resident Barb Haas echoed Rogers thoughts about the neighbor permission and the price of the annual fee. She said the inspections and other city requirements to issue an urban chicken permit should already be covered.

“I pay enough in property taxes that should cover that,” said Haas. “I think you are just asking me to pay so much more money. I think you will find it will self-regulate. You are going to price me out of it, you really are going to price me out of it because I’ll buy my chicken eggs from my friend who raises chickens in the country. I want it because I want to have that ability to go out, I look forward to that, I like chickens.”

Rogers, Haas and several other supporters of urban chickens said they would continue to attend city council meetings to try to convince aldermen to amend the new law to include the lower permit fee and to scale back the neighbor input requirement.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.