Poultry now chic for city dwellers Officials pushed to ease rules on raising chickens Sunday, May 10, 2009 10:56 PM By Dean Narciso THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH The urban chicken movement inspired a Grandview Heights teenager to lobby City Council, a city leader and others to break the law, and one police lieutenant to receive a scolding for being insensitive. The issue has taken wing in the suburbs, where officials increasingly are forced to decide whether to allow backyard poultry. "Over the decades, cities have banned certain animals, and chickens became caught up in it," said John Mahoney, of the Ohio Municipal League. Earlier this year, Worthington residents pushed City Council to reform city laws. Worthington allows chickens and coops, but only if they are no closer than 150 feet to another resident's property, impossible within most of the city. Residents there and elsewhere violate the seldom-enforced laws. Still, Worthington City Council plans to hear options next month for possibly legalizing the birds, said spokeswoman Anne Brown. Large cities such as Portland, Ore., Seattle and Los Angeles have such provisions. Toledo allows chickens as long as their living conditions are sanitary. Residents in Athens have told their City Council that they want their laws clarified, too. Chickens are permitted in the city, but only when their hutches are farther than 100 feet from a neighbor's property line. That would require at least 1 acre of property, an effective prohibition. Councilman Kent Butler wants that to change. He has proposed "chicken tractors," which would allow hutches and pens to be moved around to accommodate neighbors and help spread droppings for fertilizer. In Grandview Heights, Markus Bonn, a new member of the zoning board - which oversees property esthetics - has a coop in his backyard. Bonn said his neighbors approve of his small chicken coop. He acknowledged that he is violating city code, but hopes to begin exhibiting his birds at shows or to 4-H groups. His coop then would be permissible. Last Monday, Grandview Heights City Council faced a capacity crowd lobbying for less-restrictive laws and offering a range of reasons to allow backyard fowl. "Much of this country has become disconnected from what they eat, where people don't even know what animals or plants to associate their food with," said Jeff Reynolds. Urban chicken-rearing is more humane than factory farms, said Susannah Engdahl. "It gives them a lot more freedom to move around, which animals definitely need to be healthy and happy." Andy Smigelski, 16, is spearheading the Grandview movement. "Four hens would weigh less than a medium-sized dog and produce about the same amount of waste," he said. Many urban chickens still face urban problems. In February, Worthington police were forced to investigate the deaths of three chickens after their owner claimed his coop's wire had been cut, allowing a dog to enter. Lt. Mike Dougherty questioned how much police and City Council time should be expended over three chickens. "It's not a child that was murdered. It's food," Dougherty told a reporter. Those comments were considered insensitive by the birds' owners and some city officials. No charges were ever filed. The chicken flap demonstrates how suburban values must change, Smigelski said. "The culture still thinks of chickens as a farm animal. But in nice, small, clean coops they can be nice pets that give back."