Kenai City Council member Alex Douthit testifies in support of legislation allowing chickens on some city lots during a meeting of the Kenai Planning & Zoning Commission on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai City Council member Alex Douthit testifies in support of legislation allowing chickens on some city lots during a meeting of the Kenai Planning & Zoning Commission on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai planning group gives conditional thumbs-up to chicken ordinance

The legislation would allow Kenai residents to keep up to 12 chicken hens on certain lots

Members of Kenai’s Planning & Zoning Commission during their regular meeting Wednesday gave a conditional OK to legislation that would allow more residents to have up to 12 chicken hens.

The legislation, approved for introduction by the Kenai City Council earlier this month, would allow Kenai residents to keep up to 12 chicken hens on certain lots smaller than 40,000 square feet in most city zones. The City of Kenai would continue to prohibit livestock in the city’s Urban Residential, Suburban Residential 1, Suburban Residential 2 and Townsite Historic zones.

Kenai City Council members voted during their Jan. 4 meeting to refer the ordinance to the Planning & Zoning Commission, who considered it Wednesday. Nine people testified about the ordinance Wednesday, including Kenai City Council member Alex Douthit, the ordinance sponsor. Testimony given Wednesday and submitted in advance was evenly split in favor and against the legislation.

Those in support of the ordinance said allowing chickens on more city lots would be enforced through animal control, give residents food security and said many residents who would be affected by the ordinance already own chickens.

Those opposed to the ordinance questioned the city’s ability to enforce the proposed rules due to vague wording in the ordinance, voiced concerns about related noise and mess and said chickens would alter the character of some neighborhoods.

The legislation as proposed would require that hens be kept in an enclosed shelter or be fully fenced in at all times. Enclosed shelters would not be allowed in a front yard when located in a residential zoning district. Other setbacks are described. Any hen shelters or structures would need to be made of “durable weather resistant materials” and be kept in good repair.

Under the proposed legislation, chickens could only be slaughtered on the property if in an area not visible to the public or to adjoining properties. Hens would not be allowed to be kept in a way that creates a public nuisance as described by city code, however, keeping hens in and of itself would not be considered a nuisance or disturbance.

The Kenai City Council has twice defeated similar legislation.

Douthit told commissioners Wednesday that he decided to sponsor the legislation before current spikes in egg prices, but that allowing more residents to own chickens will provide more food security and align with what some residents are already doing. Douthit said he once owned 12 chickens because he didn’t know it was illegal.

“We all put the fish in the freezer, we put meat in the freezer, we have gardens in our yards. It’s just one more of those things I felt was a fairly simple, small change that I think will make a big difference in the city,” Douthit said.

Kristine Schmidt, who said she lives in the Woodland Subdivision near Kaleidoscope Charter School, said she purchased a home in that area because it did not allow livestock and other nuisances. Schmidt said the legislation is too vague to be meaningfully enforced and that she doesn’t want to have to see chicken coops on properties around her lot.

“We’re not against a couple of chickens, but 12 chickens on every lot in pretty much the entire city with little to no other regulation is just not going to work,” Schmidt said. “You just need to, you know, take this back to the drawing board and start all over again.”

Barbara Kennedy said she owns chickens for educational purposes with her mom and 7-year-old daughter. There may be a chicken “boom,” Kennedy said, if the ordinance passes, but she thinks a spike in chicken ownership wouldn’t last long.

“Only people who really love chickens and are dedicated to caring for animals will be in it for the long run,” Kennedy said. “The news is they’re already there because people already have chickens in their backyards. You’re just legalizing what’s already happening.”

Commissioners on Wednesday shared concerns about how chicken regulations would be enforced and questioned whether it would place additional burdens on Kenai’s animal control staff.

Chief Animal Control Officer Jessica “JJ” Hendrickson told commissioners that the department’s response to violations of city code regarding animals is “complaint-based” and that it’s hard to know exactly what the impact would be to her day-to-day operations if the ordinance passes.

“It could be a thing where people are more likely to complain because now it’s something that is allowed,” Hendrickson said of chicken ownership. “Maybe people are scared to complain now because it’s not something that is (allowed). I really don’t have an answer to that, because I don’t know what the future holds and what’s going to happen.”

The City of Kenai already allows chicken and other livestock on land parcels larger than 40,000 square feet except in the city’s Urban Residential, Suburban Residential 1, Suburban Residential 2 and Townsite Historic zones. If the ordinance passes, livestock would still be prohibited in those zones.

When asked how frequently animal control receives complaints related to chickens, Hendrickson said the department has received 11 calls since 2020. At least three of those complaints were from people who suspected a neighbor had illicit chickens, but further inspection found that not to be the case.

Commissioners were mixed after hearing testimony from members of the public, with multiple echoing concerns about the ability of the ordinance to be enforced.

“I too, agree with having chickens and having the ability to have them either as pets or as a food source, but, as it’s written, I would not be in favor of recommending it to the council,” said Commissioner Diane Fikes. “I would like to see some more work done either through a work session … and some more time (spent) on it to see where the enforcement is going to come from. I just don’t see the teeth in this ordinance.”

Commissioners ultimately voted to recommend that the Kenai City Council approve the legislation, but only after a public work session on the issue is held. The commission also recommended amending the ordinance to say containment of chickens must be behind someone’s house.

Kenai City Council members approved the legislation for introduction during their Jan. 4 meeting and referred it to Planning & Zoning. A public hearing and vote is scheduled for the council’s Feb. 1 meeting.

Wednesday’s meeting of the Kenai Planning & Zoning Commission can be streamed on the city’s YouTube channel.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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