North Liberty could be the next Iowa town to allow backyard, or urban hens. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

North Liberty could be the next Iowa town to allow backyard, or urban hens. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

UPDATE: The North Liberty City Council will consider the urban chicken ordinance at its Aug. 13 meeting, after the matter was tabled on July 23.

Daniela Williams of North Liberty, one of the supporters of the measure, said new information was presented at this week’s meeting from the Cedar Valley Humane Society, which indicated that the city’s fees would increase if the ordinance passes.

City Administrator Ryan Heiar said council members had varying opinions on some of the language within the ordinance.  Staff has been directed to provide additional options for discussion at the next meeting, he said.

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North Liberty could join the ranks of Iowa cities that allow backyard hens, but changes under consideration are ruffling a few feathers.

A public hearing is set for the City Council meeting on Tuesday, July 23, to consider an ordinance that would allow up to four chickens per household. Roosters would not be allowed.

City Administrator Ryan Heiar said the proposal was patterned after similar laws in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and Palo, but some supporters are concerned that the rules will be too restrictive.

Under the proposed ordinance, would-be chicken owners must obtain written approval from all neighbors. Iowa City adopted a similar “veto” measure when it passed its urban chicken ordinance last fall.

Daniela Williams said she would prefer the ordinance be written like the one in Cedar Rapids, where neighbors are notified when someone wants to raise backyard hens, rather than needing written approval.

Williams said she would like to raise hens as an extension of the efforts she and her partner have put into their North Liberty garden, which features fruit trees, vegetables and numerous other plants.

“We’ve transformed our yard into an urban farm almost,” she said. “Chickens are the next step to become more self-sustaining.”

Williams said she was inspired by friends in Portland, Ore., and nearby Hills in Iowa, who are raising chickens.

Also, because she eats eggs everyday, she said she would like to get them from her own backyard, just as she does her fruits and vegetables.

Residents in Cedar Rapids must take an approved class, as is proposed in North Liberty, and pay a $25 annual fee. North Liberty’s measure calls for a $20 annual fee, plus $3 for a leg band for each chicken.

Williams said she doesn’t oppose those requirements, but is concerned about another aspect of the North Liberty proposal, which appears to allow the city to deny a permit to someone living in a neighborhood that has restrictive covenants.

The proposed section reads as follows: “Private restrictions on the use of the
property shall remain enforceable and shall supersede the permit. The private
restrictions include, but are not limited to, deed restrictions, condominium
restrictions, neighborhood association bylaws, covenants and restrictions, and rental
agreements. A permit issued to a person whose property is subject to private
restrictions that prohibit keeping of chickens is void.”

Williams said she doesn’t understand why the city should be involved in covenants, which are separate from city laws and unenforceable by the city.

She plans on attending the council meeting, but hopes the items about neighbor approval and covenants are changed.

Stephanie Seckel, another supporter of the measure, said she would like to see an adjustment to the proposal to keep coops 25-feet from the property line.

“I have been looking at and measuring many of the backyards in my area and surrounding neighborhoods and most of them don’t have a yard that allows them to have a coop situated 25 feet from another¬† individual’s property line,” she said. “If they do, it forces them to put the coop in nearly the center of their yard, which obviously is the least
aesthetically pleasing location.”

Seckel said she hopes the council would negotiate that distance to be 25 feet from a neighbor’s home or out-building and 5 or 10 feet from the property line.

Heiar said the council could vote on the first reading of the ordinance after the public hearing. Three readings are required.

The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, 5 E. Cherry St., North Liberty.

See the full proposal, beginning on page 122 of the City Council agenda and read the letter to the City Council from Williams and her partner, Wes Hepker.

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