The request was for two or three backyard chickens in northern Overland Park. But once again Monday, the city council balked, balked, balked.
In a discussion reminiscent of a few years ago, council members denied Michele Sublette permission to keep chickens at her home in the 8200 block of Hardy Street. Sublette said she wanted to keep the chickens for enjoyment and fresh eggs. Keeping chickens is a hobby in her family, she said, and Sublette’s intent was to rescue some chickens owned by a family member who could no longer take care of them.
But council opponents won out in a 7-5 vote on fears of salmonella and precedent that could bring a fluttering of new chicken requests.
“The expectation when you move into an urban environment is you’re not going to find farm animals,” said Councilmember Richard Collins. As for enjoyment of the chickens, “that’s why we have them out at Deanna Rose Farmstead. She (Sublette) wants to have fresh eggs. That’s why you go to Whole Foods and Sprouts.”
Chickens are allowed within Overland Park’s limits, but only on properties of at least three acres. Less than that requires a special use permit. Sublette’s property was about a third of an acre.
Since 2004, the city has turned down five of those permits, all in the northern area near downtown Overland Park. Three recent approvals have been in the extreme southern part of the city on parcels of an acre or more.
In some earlier cases, neighbors objected to the chickens. But Sublette said she contacted all her neighbors and had no opposition. At the June Planning Commission meeting, only one person spoke about the request and that person was a neighbor in support.
No one spoke in opposition at the council meeting either. That neighbor did not speak, but Sandra Campbell supported the chicken request, saying chickens would be less noisy and disruptive than a big, barking dog in a pen.
Urban chickens was a trend that caught on about ten years ago. Many of Overland Park’s requests have come from the older, northern neighborhoods. Some council members pointed out that chicken coops have a history in that area.
Councilmember Terry Happer Scheier said she and neighbors had chickens when she first moved to Overland Park 35 years ago. “I liked them. They were great,” she said.
Councilmember Logan Heley agreed, saying chickens are a part of the city’s history. “This is a part of our city that probably supports this kind of endeavor,” he said. But Heley asked that the permit be limited to no more than three chickens for a one-year test period. Sublette already had agreed to keeping them in a screened enclosure and to exclude roosters.
Councilmember David White and others weren’t so accepting. “They’re farm animals and farm animals don’t belong in a city environment,” he said. White said salmonella carried by chickens poses a risk especially to children.
However Councilmember Faris Farassati disagreed on the disease risk. Farassati, who is a cancer scientist, said most of the danger comes from chickens on big farms that have been fed antibiotics to the point that they carry disease-resistant strains. Organically raised chickens in well-kept coops are another matter, he said. “If there are a few birds in sanitary conditions, well taken care of the chance of them passing something nasty to human beings is really, really low,” he said.
The council members who voted to allow the chickens were Happer Scheier, Farassati, Heley, Gina Burke and Curt Skoog.