Chickens are allowed in city limits on one-acre lots or larger, but supporters argued all residents should have the freedom to raise chickens that produce fresh eggs. However, the measure failed 7-2 with Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid and Ward 4 Councilman Pete White voting in favor of the proposal. The remaining six council members and Mayor Mick Cornett opposed the measure at the Dec. 31 meeting.
Before the vote, northwest OKC resident Christine Patton told the council, “Chickens are God’s gift to urban gardeners.”
Jacob Peeler, who lives at 609 NW 30th St., said the proposal would “help Oklahoma City to be more self-sustaining” while also being “less reliant on imported foods.”
No city residents spoke against the measure during the meeting.
However, council members David Greenwell, Pat Ryan and Larry McAtee said most of the comments from residents in their wards were against the chicken proposal because of potential nuisances and noise problems.
“I’m a chicken supporter, but I think we need to spend some time educating the public,” Ryan said.
The measure would have allowed residents to raise no more than six hens in their backyards. Roosters would not have been allowed.
Shadid, who represents Ward 2 and is a mayoral candidate, countered and said, “[The] public doesn’t need as much education about this as the council does. If the only issue on the table was food security for the poor, that would outweigh any of these other arguments. I feel at times we’re not responsive.”
Ward 4 Councilman White held up a large file containing letters and emails from citizens interested in the backyard chicken issue.
“There are probably three people in here who complained, and the rest believe we need to do the right thing,” he said. “But a minority of people will control this by squawking about it. It’s a good idea, it’s a reasonable idea and it’s being done all over the country.”
Large cities such as Dallas, Chicago, New York City, Miami and Denver allow chickens on all residential lots.
City Manager Jim Couch told the council he believes a compromise could be worked out to eventually allow backyard chickens at all residential lots. One of the suggestions included a permit and fee process.
Under current city codes, residents could still have backyard chickens if they received approval for a variance from the Board of Adjustment, rezoned individual properties into a Simplified Planned Unit Development or the council establishes a pilot project for targeted neighborhoods. Individuals or the council also could create urban conservation districts that would allow backyard chickens.
Urban ag approved
Minutes after rejecting the chicken proposal, the council voted 9-0 to approve an urban agriculture ordinance that deals with a variety of ag practices such as composting, rainwater harvesting, community gardening and urban farms.
All of the ag practices are now allowed on all city lots, regardless of size. The new ordinance also allows home gardens to be grown in the front, rear and side yards, but property owners must keep the area free of rank weeds.
The ordinance allows community gardens and urban farms to be developed in residential, commercial, office and industrial zoning districts.
Urban farming and gardening has become a popular trend as residents take a greater interest in the local food movement. Urban gardeners in OKC have urged city officials for years to adopt regulations that will encourage more home gardening and urban ag practices, citing positive environmental stewardship and food education as reasons for the change.