The Pros and Cons of Chickens
If city leaders want to present Kent as a progressive college town, they've got to give real consideration to CLUCKent's proposal
I will tell you two things from the get-go about me: I don't like buying eggs from the supermarket, and I'm not the most responsible pet owner out there. These things are related.
On Jan. 5, the Kent City Council health and safety committee will consider a proposal to allow Kent residents to own up to six chickens.
Laurel Hurst, founder of Citizen's League for Urban Chickens of Kent (CLUCKent), wants council to adopt a version of the group's proposed ordinance, which they drafted after looking at urban chicken laws across the country. Essentially, the ordinance would allow any Kent resident with a lot to raise up to six egg-laying hens in the city. Council would have to amend the current law that prohibits farm animals on property less then two acres.
Buying a dozen eggs at the supermarket is cheap. But if you're like me, and you don't want to support factory farming, eggs can get expensive. As Hurst said, "People should have a right to feed their families nutritional eggs that don't cost $5 a dozen." Hurst argues allowing residents to house chickens, "is compatible with a small town community that wants its citizens to live sustainably."
It sounds great. I'd love to house a few chickens in my yard and show my little girl firsthand where our food comes from.
Ward 4 Councilman John Kuhar, chair of the health and safety committee, said "At first everyone thought this was a good idea." Although, now that the concept is getting serious discussion by council, Kuhar said he's "getting flooded with calls in opposition." Kuhar said callers tell him, "It's fine, as long as it's not next door to them." Kuhar said he once kept chickens, and he believes it's not much bother to the neighbors if the coops are kept clean. But if they're not, he said, "It can be pretty ugly."
While I usually don't like the 'Not In My Back Yard' mentality, I understand the concerns in this case. Some lots in Kent are less than 50- feet wide, so a dirty chicken coop could draw flies and some potentially scary predators. As someone who has a tough time making sure my dog is properly cared for, I can see the potential for problems here.
If the Health and Safety Committee creates a chicken ordinance, Kuhar said, a law will need to include, "Setbacks, side yards, building permits, and inspections."
Hurst said CLUCKent and the Western Reserve Farm Cooperative have both volunteered to assist residents to build proper chicken houses. She said the sample ordinance written by her group recommends "predator-proof containment." And one point CLUCKent members are fond of making is six hens produce less compostable waste than a single house cat.
Word around town is that all but two city council members are still opposed to the idea. They think residents are concerned about property values and the "hippie contingent."
None of the other major cities in Portage County allow residents to house chickens. But, as Hurst points out, most of the top university towns around the country do. Heck, even Clevelanders can have a few hens.
But before permitting hen raising, Kent would be wise to establish some ground rules upfront, as suggested by Kuhar.
And CLUCKent would be fulfilling its role as the initiator of this movement by helping people make well-built coops and educating them on hen care — as Hurst has agreed to do — to stop well-meaning folks such as myself from getting chickens without first understanding how to take care of them.