Feathers continue to get ruffled over Kentucky city’s proposed chicken ordinance
Published 5:47 am Wednesday, December 29, 2021
The debate on whether or not Frankfort residents should be allowed to own chickens heated up again during the first reading of a draft ordinance recently at a Frankfort City Commission meeting.
At the start of the meeting, commissioners heard citizen comments regarding the draft ordinance.
Resident Wayne Stacy told commissioners it is a referendum issue, not one for the commission to decide.
“The registered voters of Frankfort should be the ones making a decision on the ballot,” he said.
Another citizen, Earl Burton, echoed Stacy’s concerns, stating the ordinance does not have any requirements pertaining to the health of chickens.
“Alltech, the international animal feed and health company, told me that chickens should be inoculated if the eggs were to be sold. The ordinance has no stipulations on selling eggs,” he said. “Also, the 25-foot distance is not adequate enough. The spores can travel 100 feet. Finally, I have almost 100 signatures, of which 90% of the signatures do not want the ordinance changed to allow urban chickens.”
Katie Doyle, who was in support of the ordinance, disagreed and said the ordinance was written with the “best husbandry practices for urban chicken keeping.”
Commissioner Kyle Thompson asked for discussion revolving around a homeowners’ association issue to take place before the next meeting, when a second reading of the ordinance would be held.
Thompson said he had been speaking with City Solicitor Laura Ross about allowing deference to neighborhood organizations or HOAs that specifically had some restriction if individuals who lived there wanted a permit for chickens.
“If someone were to come along and file for the permit, we would honor the known restrictions and not grant a permit if there were such a restriction. I personally would like to see what that kind of language would look like,” he said.
Thompson added if the city did not recognize these restrictions, he felt neighbors who had an issue with the chickens next to their property would litigate the matter in Franklin Circuit Court and that it would then fall back on the city.
He stated that because of this issue, he would like to see the ordinance amended to inform applicants that a permit would not be issued to them if the HOA has restrictions where they live. Ross said doing so would require another first reading of the amended ordinance.
Planning and Community Development Director Eric Cockley joined the meeting discussion virtually and said he had a few thoughts and concerns as it relates to Thompson’s request.
“I’m very concerned about this sort of slippery slope. As you all know, we had an issue come up recently with some building permits issued in an area where the neighborhood restrictions were more restrictive than the building and zoning codes and they litigated that issue,” he said.
Cockley explained his concern lies with neighborhoods wanting the city to also enforce their other restrictions if wordage was added to the ordinance to prevent a permit based upon HOA restrictions.
“If we go down that road, I would just urge you to consider whether you pass the ordinance at all. I think we end up with a whole lot of possible work while limiting the degree of which this ordinance even applies to the folks in the community at all,” he said.
Thompson asked what the result of the building permit litigation was that Cockley addressed. Initially, he did not know if he was at liberty to discuss the result of the litigation, but Cockley said the group’s plans were ultimately changed because of the restrictions.
Thompson said there is a difference between allowing someone to have an outbuilding or burn pile as compared to live chickens.
“There’s such a big difference between those two that I don’t even think you can compare them, and quite honestly, if outbuildings cause mold or some other issue that causes a health issue, I can understand,” he said. “When we’re talking about animals that we know cause health concerns, we know have nuisance violations nationwide, I don’t think that’s a slippery slope.”
Thompson said there is a minority of people in favor of having chickens, but on the other hand, a “very loud majority” of people who are not and have voiced their opinion by phone and email.
“Honestly, I think if this was a referendum issue, I don’t even think it would be close. I mean, I think it would be embarrassingly one-sided,” he said.
During the discussion, City Manager Laura Hagg said it is the personal responsibility of the owners to review the restrictions of their HOA as to whether or not they can have chickens, explaining Thompson’s request would take more time and resources to accomplish.
“Opening it up that way and incorporating the deed restrictions, I’m not an expert on this. I know Eric (Cockley) is. I think would require a lot more city resources and staff than what is currently in this draft ordinance. This to me is a policy choice,” she said.
Hagg explained if the commission moves to allow urban chickens, the draft ordinance is the best document with the appropriate language the board needs. She added it has “been years in the making” and she is trying to help move the commission closer to a decision.
“If we keep adding debate or changes, we’re going to still be debating this six months into next year. That’s why I think it’s a policy. It’s a philosophical approach. Yes or no,” she said.
Thompson asked Hagg when he would have had an opportunity to discuss the topic beforehand, adding the working group formed was to draft the ordinance and not a public forum for the public’s opinion.
“It was chickens are happening, this is what we need to do. That’s exactly the way it was presented to the folks that were there because I have several people who have emailed and called me and said, ‘I just stopped coming after the second meeting because it wasn’t about talking about chickens. It was about creating an ordinance that was going to pass.’”
Thompson said he does not want the commission to argue over the health effects or others concerns associated with the ability to own chickens in Frankfort, but to simply not issue a permit to applicants whose HOA specifically prevents them from having chickens.
“All I’m asking for is a compromise.”
Thompson said he wants to reach a resolution everyone could agree on, adding he would be able to agree on the ordinance if property owners were able to protect their property.
“Let’s move it forward. Let’s do something. Let’s just vote on it four to one. We’ll all be on the front page of the paper again talking about chickens,” he said.
Wilkerson interjected, telling Thompson the issue was addressed during the work session on Dec. 13, where the commission had the opportunity to speak on the matter.
Thompson said he asked if he could speak at that time, to which Wilkerson allegedly told him “no.”
“I specifically said is this my opportunity to talk about this issue, and you said, ‘No, it’s not,’ and I did not get a chance to talk,” Thompson said.
Mayor Layne Wilkerson did not recall telling Thompson he could not speak, adding “I hardly ever say no to anyone speaking.”
“If people live in an HOA, they probably do so for, one of the reasons is, they have some assurance their property values will be protected… Now, this is where the HOA is more restricted than our ordinance,” the mayor said. “We would expect that the HOA would prevail. I think from an HOA standpoint, the people that are against it, this will be more work for them. Once we allow it citywide, if we allow it citywide, then the HOAs will have more work, but that’s part of it.”
Furthering discussion, Thompson made a motion to add language to the ordinance that specified if an applicant lives in an area where their HOA has appropriately filed documents pertaining to the restriction of owning chickens, a permit would not be issued to the individual.
Wilkerson seconded his motion.
Commissioner Kelly May asked when the process of the draft ordinance work first began. Cockley reminded the commission that the work started in February with a community panel being formed within a month after.
Cockley said the panel met regularly to work on a draft of the ordinance that is now before the commission and discussed questions.
“We started our first meeting and, as we often do with groups like this on a contentious subject, set a very minimal agenda and essentially got us all in the room and allowed folks to kind of just share their general thoughts about the topic, do some of what I refer to as venting by both sides,” he said.
Cockley added that the group then moved forward to begin working on the ordinance.
“So, would you agree with me then that this working group, after the first venting session, as you said, wasn’t really an opportunity for any of the public to essentially say here’s a hundred signatures on a petition. Here’s our lawyer that says that we can do this,” Thompson questioned. “It was just y’all can vent and then next week when we come in, this is what’s going to happen, and we need to start talking about language with regards to the ordinance.”
Wilkerson intervened in the conversation, adding the discussion was unrelated to the motion still on the floor.
Thompson said May had made a point that individuals were able to participate and state their thoughts.
“I don’t believe that the individuals who strongly disagree with this ever had an opportunity to present that,” Thompson added.
Wilkerson stopped the discussion to finish the motion regarding additional language being added to the draft ordinance.
Thompson was the only commissioner to vote in favor of the proposed amendment, which Wilkerson said will not be added to the draft.
Returning to the discussion about the ordinance work panel, Cockley said Thompson was correct. He added he was instructed to prepare an ordinance, and “I made it clear to the folks there that were opposed to the very topic of doing that, that this wasn’t going to be the forum to try to stop that.”
Thompson said he feels it is unfortunate that “there truly wasn’t an opportunity for the general public to express their displeasure.”
“I assume that’s going to happen in May at this point,” he said.
Wilkerson said a second reading of the ordinance will take place in January, asking locals to voice their opinion of the draft to the city beforehand.