The most divisive issue on the Oklahoma City Council’s agenda this month isn’t likely to be the ongoing budget talks and the possibility of layoffs. It’s chickens. Some residents want the city to reconsider its ban on keeping chickens in most residential areas. The city’s ordinances allow chickens only on lots one acre or larger. Based on comments at last week’s city council meeting, council members are split on the issue. Most said the residents they’ve talked to also are torn. Sarah Braden has led the fight for allowing urban chickens. She said she is in favor of common-sense restrictions such as limiting the number of chickens allowed in residential areas and prohibiting roosters. Braden said she did a survey of the 30 NBA cities for comparison. "There are 23 NBA cities where chickens are allowed,” Braden said. "I don’t know what the restrictions are on them, but they are allowed.”
Survey saysThe city’s own survey of eight peer cities in the region found that six allow chickens on lots of any size, one requires a half-acre lot and one does not allow chickens at all. A survey by the Neighborhood Alliance found two thirds of city residents would support backyard chickens with some restrictions, such as those Braden suggests. Those numbers aren’t swaying some critics, such as Ward 3 Councilman Larry McAtee, whose ward includes southwest Oklahoma City. "I’m against chickens, and my neighborhoods are against chickens,” he said. "The neighborhoods that I have talked to have been overwhelmingly against chickens, five to one.” Even if the council passes an ordinance allowing chickens, home owners’ associations and covenant neighborhoods could pass their own regulations banning them. Most council members said the residents they’ve talked to are evenly split on the issue. Ward 6 Councilwoman Meg Salyer and Ward 7 Councilman Skip Kelly, whose wards include the downtown and northeast areas, said if people want to raise chickens, they can already do so by choosing to live in a neighborhood with lots of an acre or larger.
A compromiseBraden and her fellow chicken advocates have some allies on the council. Ward 4 Councilman Pete White and Ward 5 Councilman Brian Walters, whose wards include south and southeast Oklahoma City, both said they would support dropping the city’s ban on chickens in smaller residential areas. White said his parents and many of their neighbors kept chickens at their Oklahoma City homes many years ago before there were any restrictions. Walters said those who want to raise chickens aren’t asking for more than other pet owners. "They want to follow the rules,” Walters said. "They want to teach their children responsibility, how to take care of something and where food comes from.” Walters said the city allows people to keep up to four dogs, which could easily be louder and smellier than a handful of chickens. Braden said noise and smell are the two biggest complaints she’s heard from opponents. She said prohibiting roosters would solve the noise concern. "With a limited number of backyard chickens, well cared for and cleaned up after every once in a while, smell really isn’t an issue,” Braden said. Ward 2 Councilman Sam Bowman, who has worked with Braden and city staff members on the issue, said he can’t support allowing chickens citywide but would be open to a compromise. He said he would recommend having city staff members design a process in which the council could consider chickens on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis.
Chickens in Oklahoma CityOklahoma City residents must have at least a one-acre lot to keep chickens.
There is no limit on the number of chickens.
Chickens in other citiesHere are the results of an October survey of peer cities in the region conducted by Oklahoma City (other restrictions besides lot size and number of chickens allowed not included here):
→Austin, Texas: No minimum lot size; no limit on number of chickens. →El Paso, Texas: No minimum lot size; up to six chickens allowed. →Fort Worth, Texas: Lot must be at least one-half acre; limit of 25 chickens. →Kansas City, Kan.: Chickens not allowed. →Nashville, Tenn.: No minimum lot size; up to six chickens allowed on lots less than two acres; unlimited chickens on lots of two acres or larger. →St. Louis: No minimum lot size; up to three pets allowed, including chickens. →Tulsa: No minimum lot size; six adult chickens and 14 chicks under 8 weeks allowed. →Wichita, Kan.: No minimum lot size; up to 12 chickens allowed. SOURCE: CITY OF OKLAHOMA CITY