Here is a sample letter to start the process to change chicken laws in your town:
Hamilton County Commissioner
138 E. Court St.
Cincinnati OH 45202
cc: Greg Hartmann, Todd Portune, Russ Sparks
December 9, 2009
Dear Commissioner Pepper,
We are Hamilton County residents sincerely interested in living more sustainably as individuals and a community. We believe one way to live more sustainably is to produce a little of our own food.
We’re members of Cincinnati Backyard Chickens, a local group which provides support and advice to those who wish to keep a few hens in urban/suburban backyards as pets and for purposes of household egg-gathering.
Several members of Cincinnati Backyard Chickens have been dismayed to learn that because they live in the unincorporated areas of Hamilton County, they cannot keep a few hens in their backyards. This despite the fact that many of the incorporated areas abutting their townships do allow chicken-keeping. For instance, Cincinnati, Cheviot, Madeira, Harrison, Terrace Park, Indian Hill, and Mariemont all allow chickens under conditions less restrictive than those in the unincorporated areas. Many other Hamilton County suburbs also currently allow chickens, including Wyoming, Evendale, Glendale, Milford, and Montgomery. And across the nation many cities and suburbs are revising their laws to allow a few chickens.
Chickens are defined in the 2008 Zoning Resolution for the Unincorporated Territory of Hamilton County, Ohio as livestock.
LIVESTOCK. Hoofed mammals, including but not limited to horses, cattle, sheep, swine, goats, bison, llamas, and other species typically raised for food, fiber or draft. Also includes domestic fowl and game birds.
But a six pound hen, unlike a half-ton hog or fifteen-hundred-pound bull, is not inherently a farm animal, and a small backyard flock of four or five hens is no more inherently an agricultural operation than are a couple of dogs – and is likely to create far less noise, smell, waste, and annoyance to the neighbors than the dogs.
Currently in the unincorporated areas of Hamilton County, chickens are allowed only on lots greater than one acre and so long as their enclosures are at least 100 feet from all property lines. Household pet enclosures, however, can be as close to property lines as 20 feet, including enclosures for private kennels operated by hobby breeders, which can be run on any size lot. We can assure you, the average backyard flock of three to six hens requires less room and is a lot less aggravating to any neighbor than the average hobby dog breeding operation!
Here are the pertinent sections of current code:
3-9.4 Agricultural Accessory Uses.
Accessory buildings and uses customarily incident to any of the uses in section 3.8, including:
Household Pet Enclosures. The keeping of household pets provided, however, that any exterior enclosure in which household pets are kept shall be located in the rear yard and such enclosure (except property line fences) shall be at least twenty (20) feet from every property line.
Livestock Enclosures. The keeping of livestock, on lots as provided in section 3-8, provided, however, that any such accessory buildings or enclosures (including all fences), for such animals or fowl, other than household pets, shall be at least one hundred (100) feet from every property line.
Private Kennel Enclosures. Private kennels, on lots as provided in Section 3-8, provided that any exterior enclosure (including fences constructed solely for the purpose of confining animals) in which household pets are kept shall be located in the rear yard and at least twenty (20) feet from every property line of adjacent parcels. See Table of Permissible Uses and Section 3-9.1 for Commercial Kennels.
(B.C.C. Res., effective April 14, 2007)
Chickens have been present in backyards large and small in cities, small towns, and rural areas from time immemorial. Hens are not inherently farm animals, any more than dogs or rabbits are. We ask that they be removed from the county’s definition of livestock and included in the definition of household pets.
We appreciate your consideration of this matter and would like to provide you with more information, as we’ve done quite a bit of research on the subject of suburban chicken-keeping here in Hamilton County and in other areas and would be happy to share. We’d love to have the opportunity to answer questions you might have about this issue and even show you some typical suburban small-flock backyard coops. One of us will plan to attend next Wednesday’s meeting of the County Commission, or please feel free to contact one of us.