Dubuque's urban chicken ordinance goes from strict to lax - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Dubuque's urban chicken ordinance goes from strict to lax

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While urban chickens are banned in some cities, Dubuque now has one of the loosest ordinances among the state's largest cities when it comes to the keeping of backyard hens.

Less than two weeks ago, the city of Dubuque virtually dropped its permitting process. Up until recently, a person wanting to keep backyard chickens within city limits had to pay $300 to apply for a permit and was limited to four hens. The process included a number of inspections.

Now, the city has no permitting process or cap on the number of hens a person can own. Dubuque still bans roosters, however, for obvious noise issues, and the city strongly recommends people wanting to keep hens alert their neighbors. The city will intervene if problems arise, such as complaints from neighbors about noise or smell.

Chris Happ Olsen and her family are the first to take advantage of Dubuque's newly-lax ordinance. They've had their flock of five chickens now for about a week.

"We knew that it would be interesting for our family, just overall, with our children, who are seven- and 12-years-old," Happ Olsen said Monday morning at her home. "We have our own garden, my husband grew up on a farm, and we really do try to support local food systems."

She said she likes knowing where the eggs her family eats are coming from.

Cori Burbach is the city of Dubuque's sustainability coordinator. She said the popularity of and demand for urban chickens are on the rise.

"A lot of people are really interested in growing their own food. It can be a cost-effective thing," Burbach said. "There are certainly costs, so it's kind of the flip side -- but people want to know where their own food comes from and really be kind of self-supportive. That's the biggest thing that we hear people that are excited about chickens say."

Not every eastern Iowa city is quite as keen on the coops, however.

Cedar Falls doesn't allow people to keep chickens in residential areas, except those grandfathered in before Nov. 1, 2006.

Cities such as Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Waverly do allow urban chickens, but people must apply for a permit and pay a fee, which varies from city to city.

Waterloo requires people who want to keep a small flock to apply for a special hobby farm permit. The city's board of adjustment approves these permits on a case-by-case basis. Going through the permitting process costs $200. After that, there are no additional fees, but the license must be renewed annually.

Cedar Rapids' urban chicken permit costs $25 and must be renewed (and paid for) annually. A person may keep no more than six hens. This ordinance has been in effect for four years.

Iowa City's permit costs $100 and must be renewed every three years, though the renewal cost is less. People there may keep no more than four hens at once. That ordinance went into effect Dec. 18, 2012.

Waverly charges $30 for its urban chicken permit, which needs renewing every three years. People may own no more than four hens. This ordinance went into effect March of 2014.

All of the cities listed above that allow urban hens also ban roosters.

People who oppose backyard chickens in city limits have cited concerns over noise, smell, pests, decreased property value and chickens on the loose.

"A lot of times people put in a little fence and are very surprised when the chickens fly right over the fence," Burbach said, adding she wants people who get a flock to know what they're getting into.

Cedar Rapids requires all people applying for a backyard hen permit to complete a class through Indian Creek Nature Center about raising chickens in an urban setting.

Olsen said her family got their five hens and coop from a friend in Waterloo, named Candy Streed, after Waterloo's board of adjustment denied Streed the special hobby farm permit required to own chickens in city limits.

Olsen said the flock eats feed, plus bugs from the grass, and the hens lay anywhere from one to three eggs a day.

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