Leawood considers becoming latest Johnson County city to allow backyard chickens

Overland Park chickens

At least six other northeast Johnson County cities, including Prairie Village and Shawnee, allow backyard chickens in some form. Leawood is now considering amending its city code to allow residents to keep chickens on their property. Photo credit Charles LeBlanc. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Leawood is considering becoming the latest Johnson County city to allow residents to keep chickens within city limits.

This week, the city council voted unanimously to direct city staff to research how other area cities approach allowing chickens. They city will also seek citizen input through the city’s website and social media and then draft an amendment to the city code, which currently prohibits keeping chickens.

After all that, the council would then consider the measure in a work session and send it to the planning commission, after which it would return to the council for final consideration.

One resident’s perspective

At Monday’s meeting, resident Sandy Isham spoke in favor of allowing backyard chickens. Isham said she and her husband had lived in Leawood for about 30 years and had recently sent a letter to Mayor Peggy Dunn about the issue.

Isham said she wanted to keep chickens on her 1.9-acre property on West 151st Street in Ward 3.

She said having chickens would allow her to grow organic eggs and produce high-quality fertilizer. They’d also help her teach her grandchildren about nature and caring for animals and be used for therapeutic purposes for her 92-year-old mother, who has dementia.

Isham said she would not keep roosters or kill chickens on her property. Instead, “they would be pets,” she said.

Concerns about potential noise, odor and disease from chicken waste — and a resultant reduction of nearby property values — have been brought up in other Johnson County cities that have considered backyard chickens.

Isham acknowledged those concerns, but said noise from chickens averages about 65 decibels, comparable to human conversation and less than the average of roughly 90 decibels for barking dogs.

And a 40-pound dog creates more waste than 10 chickens, she said.

Composting prevents manure from accumulating and creating bad odors. And the incidence of histoplasmosis, a fungus commonly found in chicken coops, is low in the Kansas City area.

Other cities’ policies

Other cities that allow chickens, including several in the Kansas City area, elsewhere in Kansas and in other states, have seen no indication of reduced property values, Isham argued.

Last year, Prairie Village became one of the latest metro cities to approve regulations allowing for backyard chickens.

Roeland Park, Mission, Lenexa, Shawnee, Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., also currently allow residents to keep chickens.

Meanwhile, Overland Park has also debated expanding its residential chicken regulations. Currently, the city allows the animals on properties that are at least three acres big, which shuts out most homeowners in the more densely populated northern part of the city.

The Leawood city council this week discussed whether the city should restrict the distance of chicken coops from property lines or next-door houses or require a minimum acreage.

Ward 3 Councilmember Lisa Harrison said she and Ward 3’s other councilmember Chuck Sipple had been working on whether Leawood should allow residents to keep bees, which the council started considering last summer.

Ward 4 Councilmember Julie Cain said that whether to allow chickens was a more complex question than it appeared at face value, like beekeeping.

Along with city staff researching cities that allow beekeeping, the city’s sustainability committee has been studying the issue and consulting with beekeepers, Cain said.

“Chickens should get the same level of discussion and exploration as bees,” she said.

Harrison said she was concerned that chickens near fences could prompt a neighbors’ dog to bark at them, which could be “nightmarish for any neighbors,” though keeping chickens farther from fences would probably minimize the chance of that occurring.