Overland Park councilmembers consider changing approval policy for chickens

Overland Park councilmembers are beginning to rethink the process for giving residents permission to have chickens. Since 2004, the council voted on 15 applications for chickens but only approved four. Out of the four, three were south of Interstate 435. Photo credit mazaletel. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Getting permission to keep chickens has for years been a tough sell to the Overland Park City Council. For people with fewer than three acres, it involved a presentation to the planning commission and then to the full council. Most of the time, the council shot the applications down.

But councilmembers are beginning to rethink the process, which has favored homeowners in the southern part of the city who typically have larger lots.

On Wednesday the council’s Community Development Committee asked staff to look at alternatives to the way chicken permits are handled.

“This is an opportunity for us as a council to have a discussion about how comfortable we are with making it easier to have chickens in residential neighborhoods,” said committee chairman Curt Skoog. “Truly today it is frustrating for our residents who go through that process just to get turned down at the council.”

The city’s chicken rules – currently under the Unified Development Ordinance – require a special use permit, issued with planning commission approval, for chickens to be kept on lots smaller than three acres. That has favored residents in the southern part of the city, where lots are larger.

Since 2004, the council voted on 15 applications for chickens but only approved four. Out of the four, three were south of Interstate 435. Residents in the northern part of the city, where lots are smaller, are generally refused, even in cases where surrounding neighbors have spoken out in support.

That’s in part because some councilmembers have been adamantly opposed to city chickens. But there has been significant turnover on the council the past few years, and the committee decided that staff could at least begin to look at a less-frustrating process for applicants.

For example, the city could put its chicken rules under the animal licensing ordinance. That would eliminate the need for a planning commission hearing.

Beyond that, staff will look at several options. Chickens could be allowed on a certain lot size, or the city could tie permission to performance standards that might include a limit on the flock size, setbacks or a no-rooster rule.

Councilmember Stacie Gram, who represents Ward 4, had some reservations, saying its “problematic” to allow urban chickens. She said the restrictions would be important.

Councilmember Chris Newlin also wanted homeowner associations to have the power to outlaw chickens on their developments. But, “Having hens could be a food thing. It could help people and it really does create neighborhood unity sometimes if everyone is for it,” he said.

Skoog and Councilmember Holly Grummert said the approval of neighbors will also make a difference. “To me it’s less about the size of the piece of property than the consent of the surrounding neighbors,” Skoog said.

Area municipalities have varying ordinances on chickens. Prairie Village is also in the process of revamping its rules.