Proposed animal control ordinance tabled until October

A proposed change to a Columbus ordinance that would ban the ownership of chickens and other livestock within the city limits is in flux. The ordinance first went before the Columbus City Council last month and passed on a vote of 5-to-2. An outpouring of opposition during Tuesday night’s second reading seemingly changed some minds on the council.

The council meeting was moved to the Cal Brand Meeting Room inside of City Hall in anticipation of a large turnout. That anticipation was well-founded, as the room was nearing standing-room only. Mayor Jim Lienhoop explained to the audience the purpose of the ordinance and Council Frank Jerome followed up, explaining that, with the first reading already approved, those who were opposed to the ordinance change would have to change the minds of at least two council members. Two of the council’s newest members, Democrat Elaine Wagner and Republican Laurie Booher, were the dissenting votes in the first reading of the plan that would have made it a violation to keep chickens, chinchillas, teacup pigs and miniature horses, among other animals, within city limits.

Some members of the council briefly summarized their thoughts before the public discussion. What followed was nearly two-hours of area residents sharing their thoughts on the subject. The room, and those who chose to speak, were overwhelmingly against the ordinance change. While many speakers noted that they have chickens, others said that they did not, but added that they did not want to see their neighbors get rid of their animals. Residents argued that chickens provide food, as well as serve as pets, sources of comfort and aid children who have difficulties socializing.

Those opposed to the ordinance change also targeted arguments made by those who want to see the change passed. On issues like health concerns, some chicken ownership proponents said that the threat was overblown, stating that for a genuine health concern, there would have to be thousands of birds confined to a small area. Amber Porter, who organized the group “Columbus Homeowners Initiative for Chicken Keeping,” also spoke in favor of her feathered friends. She stressed to the council that chickens are good for the environment and provide for a sustainable way of life. Another chicken advocate, Mike Sharp, argued that council members shouldn’t put so much stock into anonymous complaints. He cited a procedure with Columbus Animal Care Services in which residents who wish to make complaints about an animal must identify themselves.

City Council Frank Miller spoke out against that line of thinking. Miller says that, in many cases, neighbors don’t make complaints to other neighbors, or to Animal Care Services, out of fear of creating disharmony in the neighborhood. Reading from papers in front of him, Councilman Miller spoke about complaints he has personally received from residents about chickens. He told those in attendance that he can no easier discount the complaints any more than he could discount the opinions of those who spoke at the meeting.

While most of those who did speak out publicly were “chicken-friendly,” a few were not. One resident on Nottingham Drive said that the ordinance change is needed out of concerns for the health of the community. Another resident noted that chickens can be loud and, unlike dogs, cannot be trained to lower their noise. She also took issue with what she perceived as some residents using their children to push an agenda that most city residents don’t want.

Once the public comment session ended, Councilman Frank Jerome proposed tabling the ordinance change for three months to allow the “pro-chicken” residents an opportunity to write-up a proposal that would allow them to police themselves, while at the same time, address the concerns of residents who don’t want farm animals in the city. That failed on a vote of 3-to-4, as other council members said they wanted a more inclusive committee to address the issue.

Council ultimately voted, 5-to-2, to table the ordinance change to allow the creation of this committee. Mayor Jim Lienhoop says that the group will consist of five residents on each side of the issue, along with two members of the city council. He says that the issue will be discussed next at the council’s October 4th meeting.