Prairie Village City Council approves zoning changes to allow backyard hens, though HOA rules can still restrict the animals

The Prairie Village City Council Monday approved a zoning amendment that allows residents to keep backyard hens, though home association restrictions would override the ordinance. Photo credit Liz West. Used under a Creative Commons license.

The Prairie Village City Council voted 11-1 Monday night to approve a zoning amendment allowing residents to keep backyard hens — though a homes association’s deed restrictions prohibiting chickens would override a city ordinance.

Ward 1 Councilmember Chad Herring said at Monday’s meeting that he would have preferred an approach to license residents wanting to keep chickens and that the council might consider doing that if problems arise. He suggested posting information on the city’s website about safely handling backyard chickens and including links to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s online publications “Healthy Pets, Healthy People” and “Healthy Families and Flocks”.

Deputy City Administrator Jamie Robichaud said city staff would post information on the city’s site describing in plain language what the new ordinance allows and prohibits, and that an article about the new ordinance would be included in an upcoming edition of The Prairie Village Voice.

Ward 2 Councilmember Ron Nelson said he supported the measure despite his “significant concerns about the lack of licensing, the lack of permitting — for all the reasons that have been discussed in previous sessions — and I foresee that there are going to be problems, but the train’s left the station.”

The new ordinance includes the following restrictions:

  • Limits the number of chicks on any one lot to eight, regardless of the number of dwellings on a lot
  • Limits to six the number of chickens ages 16 weeks or older on any one lot
  • Requires chicken coops (including runs) and chicken tractors (moveable coops with no floors) to have at least 12 square feet per chicken and to not exceed 84 square feet total
  • Requires that coops, runs and tractors must be located at least 10 feet from a lot’s property line and at least 25 feet from any dwelling, church, school or business structure on any other parcel
  • Prohibits killing chickens on residential lots, consistent with the Kansas animal cruelty statute
  • Deletes the animal cruelty section of the existing animal ordinance and its reference in the city’s Uniform Public Offense Code because the section was found to have conflicted with the state statute, and replaces the section and UPOC reference by referring to the state statute

Ward 6 Councilmember Terrence Gallagher cast the lone opposition vote Monday. Mayor Eric Mikkelson was required to vote because the measure involved a zoning ordinance change. Ward 3 Councilmember Bonnie Limbird was absent.

The council’s action culminates a process that started June 15, when its Committee of the Whole voted 9 to 3 to amend the city’s animal control regulations to allow residents to keep backyard hens. The full council voted 8 to 4 on July 6 to approve an ordinance allowing that. But the ordinance could be implemented only with the Planning Commission’s approval of a zoning change, which it gave Aug. 4.

Homes Association could override ordinance

Ward 2 Councilmember Ron Nelson, an attorney and president of the Prairie Village Homes Association (PVHA), the city’s largest, said in July that the association’s deed restriction prohibiting the keeping of livestock or poultry would override a city ordinance allowing residents to keep chickens.

A homes association is essentially a contractual relationship between the homeowners in the association.

“It’s a little different than a contract,” he said. “It’s called ‘a covenant running with the land,’ so subsequent owners are also responsible to follow certain rules and deed restrictions,” Nelson said. “A city can pass an ordinance allowing or disallowing something, but if the homes association restrictions are more strict than the city’s, then the association controls. If the city’s restrictions are stronger, it controls.”

A change in any provision of the PVHA’s deed restrictions would require written consent of two-thirds of its members, he said. But Ward 2 Councilmember Inga Selders later pointed out that PVHA’s deed restrictions do allow for exceptions, which Nelson confirmed.

The PVHA’s deed restrictions and those of all other J.C. Nichols Co. homes associations state that an exception to the prohibition of livestock or poultry can be granted with written consent of the J.C. Nichols Co., which assigned that authority to the PVHA’s board, Nelson said.

But the board “cannot merely make whatever exceptions to the deed restrictions that it wants on a request by any resident,” he said.

The PVHA’s board had received no request regarding allowing backyard hens, Nelson said. It acts only on requests, not on general discussion of an issue.

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.