Aldermen may reconsider amending ordinance to allow backyard chickens

By: 
Dave Marner
Managing Editor

Owensville aldermen will revisit an ordinance, which, although it was rejected as recently as Aug. 28, could permit chickens in backyard residential settings after all.

Scott Turner and Cheryl Merritt first brought a request to aldermen in late March seeking approval to legally raise hens inside the city limits. Several versions of draft ordinances were developed over the following months. Deputy Clerk Peggy Farrell provided aldermen then with a list of 19 Missouri communities which either allow chickens in residential settings through regulation or take no regulatory stance.

Aldermen in April seemed to be in favor of proceeding with development of an ordinance allowing for chickens in a residential setting and establishing regulations for their owners.

“I’m in favor of moving it forward,” Ward 1 Alderman Cathy Lahmeyer said at the city’s April 3 session. “Let’s move it forward.”

Over the coming months, City Administrator Nathan Schauf and city staff developed several draft ordinances for aldermen to consider. No one wanted roosters — that was apparent. Hens were acceptable. Three to six hens were discussed as allowable. 

“That day was the happiest day of my life,” Merritt told aldermen on Monday about the April meeting noting she thought the ordinance allowing chicken hens “was a go” back then.

Aldermen, however, voted against pursing the ordinance on Aug. 28.

“If you could give me some reasoning I could process it,” said Merritt on Sept. 18. “Is this something we can move forward with in the future?”

Merritt noted she had other supporters with her during the April meeting. Susan Nichols also voiced her opinion in April in support of aldermen amending the ordinance to allow chickens in residential areas. 

At least 10 residents raised their hands Monday when aldermen inquired who all was there in support of allowing backyard chickens. Nichols was among them.

Rob Borgmann, president of the board,  cited concerns about enforcement as a reason aldermen rejected the proposal in August. “Currently, we don’t have an animal control or code enforcement officer.,” said Borgmann. “It’s a no go.”

“Ten people had chickens in this town before you kibosh-ed it,” countered Merritt.

“In a sense,” Borgmann inquired of Merritt, “you were breaking the law already, correct?” 

“Yes,” she admitted.

Board members, including Karl Buck, new to the board as a Ward 1 alderman following his election in April, wondered why more people didn’t express their support for this issue previously.

“I’m not the only person, I wanted you to know that,” Merritt told the board. “The reason they don’t come is they feel you won’t listen. Why even bother? They won’t listen?”

Merritt said she had a petition with 158 names on it in support of allowing residents to have chickens. “No one said ‘no,’” she added.

Lahmeyer was not present at the meeting Monday but was in agreement with Buck last month when she noted the board currently did not have an “appetite” for allowing chickens in residential settings. The board voted 3-0 against adopting the ordinance as proposed. Denise Bohl from Ward 2 was absent from the August meeting when the ordinance was rejected.

Merritt and other supporters noted they knew nothing of the board’s decision until reading about it in Sept. 13 issue of The Republican. Merritt admitted she and Turner could have reacted better when police visited their residence last week to tell them of the board’s decision.

She insisted the board reconsider, taking into consideration those who were in attendance who supported the amending of city code. 

“Just like Tim (Feldman) down the street with all his stuff,” replied Buck. “What if he wants a scrap yard? The only comparison is it was a violation when you came and asked for it.”

Merritt agreed but noted there was a sense during the April meeting that city officials would be proceeding with a plan to develop and adopt an ordinance allowing certain types of livestock in a residential setting such as laying hens.

“Our understanding was you were going to move forward with it,” Merritt responded. “My girls are my girls. I’m not asking for the world. I’ve got three chickens. I’m asking for you to revisit it.”

“We don’t have a code enforcement officer,” Borgmann noted again. “We’re working on that. It’s not fair to put that on the police.”

Mayor John Kamler closed out the 12-minute discussion telling Merritt to bring them her petition for aldermen to review “and we’ll get it on the agenda” in October.

Schauf noted the proposed ordinance which was rejected last month defines domestic livestock then lists what is prohibited. The exception is female chickens.

“We don’t want roosters,” Turner told The Republican on Tuesday. “We just want chickens for laying fresh eggs.”

The city’s next regularly scheduled meeting is 7 p.m. Oct. 2.

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