Prairie Village takes steps toward allowing residents to keep hens — though home owners associations still have their own prohibitions

Prairie Village took a step toward allowing residents to keep backyard hens this week, though several steps remain before it could become official. Photo credit mazaletel. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Prairie Village took a step this week toward allowing residents to keep chickens — though individual homes associations may have their own restrictions that would prevent people from taking advantage of the city relaxing its regulations.

The City Council, meeting as a committee of the whole, voted 9 to 3 Monday night to approve amending the city’s animal control regulations to allow residents to keep hens but not roosters. Ward 2 Councilmember Ron Nelson, Ward 5 Councilmember Dan Runion and Ward 6 Councilmember Terrence Gallagher voted no. The measure will next go to the full council for consideration at its July 6 meeting.

The city’s zoning code also prohibits residents from keeping chickens. The council cannot on its own pass an ordinance that overturns or contradicts the zoning code, City Attorney David Waters said. To make the animal control regulations and the zoning code consistent, a draft ordinance must be sent to the Planning Commission for its consideration, which the committee of the whole also approved.

The Planning Commission will consider at its Aug. 4 meeting whether to amend the zoning regulations to allow for chickens. Kansas statute and the city’s zoning regulations require a public hearing on the measure, with published notice 20 days before the hearing. After the public hearing, the commission will make its recommendation to the council. The measure could then return to the full council for consideration at its Aug. 17 meeting, at the earliest.

Council and staff discussions Monday included:

  • Whether to allow residents to slaughter their chickens
  • Whether a restaurant or butcher would be allowed to slaughter a chicken and sell it as meat in the city
  • What exactly constitutes “public” slaughtering
  • Whether residents should be required to register their chickens with the city
  • Whether a homeowners association’s rules prohibiting chickens would trump a city ordinance that allows chickens
  • How many chickens a resident may keep (the proposed ordinance states a limit of six)
  • The minimum and maximum sizes of a chicken coop and a chicken tractor (a moveable coop with no floor)
  • That an animal that attacks or kills a chicken would not necessarily be classified as dangerous, potentially dangerous or vicious

Questions about conflict with homeowners association’s deed restrictions

Ward 5 Councilmember Dan Runion suggested adding language to the ordinance stating whether it or a homeowners association’s rule, if they conflict with each other, would have controlling authority regarding keeping chickens. The Prairie Village Homes Association, the largest homes association in the city, for example, has a provision in its deed restrictions that prohibit the keeping of “livestock or poultry.”

Waters said he recommended against adding such clarifying language.

“Generally speaking,” Waters said, “the city does not get in the business of enforcing private deed restrictions or private homes associations’ agreements. … I don’t think you want to get into a mix there of the city saying it either trumps or it doesn’t trump. I don’t recommend you get in the middle of such a situation.”

“Is that because we don’t know?” Runion said.

“I think you can have both of those existing at one time,” Waters said. “The city can issue licenses, and private people as a matter of contract, which is what deed restrictions are, can agree to abide by different things. I know this is a very sensitive topic right now because of racial covenants and such, but you could have deed restrictions of any kind,” such as stipulations for only single-family residential use or height restrictions, “provided that it doesn’t violate any sorts of civil rights laws or Fair Housing Act policies,” for example.

Ward 2 Councilmember Inga Selders said that all communities surrounding Prairie Village that allow backyard hens have had “no major complaints.” Some residents “desire to be more self-sufficient, teach their children important life skills, engage in positive environmental and sustainable practices and bring a greater sense of community in our neighborhoods, much like what is happening with community gardening and bee keeping. This proposal was 100% resident driven.”

Neighboring cities Roeland Park and Mission have in recent years relaxed regulations to allow residents to keep backyard hens. Overland Park also allows homeowners to keep chickens, though they must make a formal application to the city council for approval. Some residents have complained that homeowners who live north of I-435 have a harder time getting such applications approved than those who live south of I-435, where home lots tend to be larger.