Kenai city council members Terry Bookey and Ryan Marquis introduced an ordinance allowing up to twelve hens to be kept on Kenai residential properties under 40,000 square feet — an activity that currently violates city code. At Wednesday’s council meeting, the council voted down the ordinance 4-3. A similar chicken ordinance, introduced by then-member Mike Boyle, failed in 2013.
Marquis, who declined to run in the recent election and will soon leave the council after two terms, said that voting against the 2013 chicken ordinance was one of his few regrets.
“At that time, my primary reason for voting against it was bears being attracted to residential areas because of the chickens,” Marquis said. “Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time walking through residential neighborhoods, and I realize how many people have chickens within the city — I’m assuming illegally — and I haven’t heard much about any increased bear activity within the city.”
Mayor Pat Porter was the first to oppose the ordinance.
“I live within 15 feet of my neighbor,” Porter said. “The subdivision I live in is really tight quarters, and I cannot imagine having to live next door to chickens. Particularly where they don’t have to be fenced off where I can’t see them, or they can get loose.”
Asked about bear activity by Porter, Kenai Police Chief Gus Sandahl said that bear reports in Kenai have been “significantly lower in the past two summers.” When Porter asked again at a later point, Sandahl said bear encounters in Kenai have been “minimal.”
“Maybe it’s because we don’t have any chickens,” Porter said.
Chickens can be legally kept in Kenai — on lots greater than 40,000 square feet, or if the owner applies for and receives a conditional use permit from the Planning and Zoning Commission. Kenai City Manager Rick Koch said no chicken permits had been applied for in his nine years as City Manager.
Council member Henry Knackstedt is a legal Kenai chicken owner — he said he keeps about 30 egg-laying hens on about 30 acres.
“I really haven’t had any problems with bears…” Knackstedt said. “I haven’t had any problems with my neighbors because of the size of the lot. The zoning works, because I’m greater than 40,000 square feet.”
Knackstedt said he “spent a lot of time” with the 2013 chicken ordinance as a then-member of the Planning and Zoning commission. According to previous Clarion reporting, the 2013 chicken ordinance was debated by the city council and Planning and Zoning for 7 months.
“If it’s done right, I don’t think anyone would have a problem with (hen-keeping),” Knackstedt said. “And I think there are people who should have conditional use permits, but don’t. It goes on just fine, just like a lot of other things. But when I look at this, it looks like it has Planning and Zoning written all over it… the way it should be managed, supervised. I think neighbors should have a say if they don’t want to have chickens next door. I’m conflicted because I think it can be done, but not the way it’s written at this point.”
Knackstedt encouraged Marquis and Bookey to send the ordinance to the Planning and Zoning commission, pointing out that “it’s a different planning and zoning than we had a few years ago.”
Council member Tim Navarre said he opposed allowing hen-keeping, not because of bears but because of “health issues that come with chickens.” Council member Brian Gabriel said the present permit allowance was sufficient to allow hen-keeping where appropriate.
“The fact is that when you get into smaller lot sizes, you run into issues that aren’t really relevant to larger lot sizes,” Gabriel said. “Such as proximity to your neighbors. Your neighbors might have dogs on several sides of your chicken coop. The effect on them could be pretty dramatic… I don’t have an objection to chickens, but the idea of having neighbors weigh in on the effects it might have on them in high-density neighborhoods, there’s a value to that I don’t think we should overlook.”
Bookey responded to Gabriel.
“To address the dogs, I think that’s more an issue of property-owners having dogs and not controlling them,” Bookey said. “I understand the reasoning and the need for zoning and planning and things like that. But when we continually reference ‘your neighbors should have a say in what you do on your property,’ I think that’s true to some extent. But in many, many cases we’re putting more value on what the neighbors think I should do on the parcel of land that I own than what I think I should do on the parcel of land that I own.”
Council members Gabriel, Knackstedt, Navarre, and Mayor Porter voted against chicken legalization.
Reach Ben Boettger at email@example.com