Chickens in the city; what about noise, smell and disease?

News-DemocratFebruary 2, 2014 

— Belleville residents petitioning City Hall for the chance to raise chickens within city limits will have to overcome concerns that the birds will be smelly, loud and disease-ridden.

Ward 2 Alderwoman Janet Schmidt and other supporters will introduce an ordinance Wednesday asking that Belleville residents be allowed to have up to three hens -- no roosters -- per household.

"They're not a hard animal to care for," Schmidt said. "This way you know what they've eaten and how they've been treated. It'd be awesome to go out in your yard in the morning to collect your eggs."

The issue is on the agenda of the Public Health and Housing Committee meeting set for 6 p.m. Wednesday in the second-floor conference room of City Hall, 101 S. Illinois St.

If the committee approves the initial proposal, then the Ordinance and Legal Review Committee will work on a more detailed ordinance before it goes to the full City Council for a vote.

Residents and aldermen against the idea have said they are concerned about the smell, noise and diseases that come with raising chickens.

To address those concerns, Schmidt said, the proposed ordinance says residents must keep the hens in fully enclosed shelters with open-air access, and in a safe, humane and sanitary manner in accordance with existing city nuisance codes.

Still, Belleville resident Jim Chadderton said there is no way to know how many residents in his neighborhood will want to raise chickens.

"I live in the city and I don't care about having a lot of livestock around," Chadderton said.

If everyone on and behind Wabash Avenue got the maximum number of hens allowed, there would be 54 chickens around his home, Chadderton said.

"Those people would really have to keep their cages clean because if the wind blows in the wrong direction we could get the smell from the front and back of our house," Chadderton said. "I don't believe everyone is going to have a perfect shelter for the chickens where they won't get out."

David Valentine, who lives off 17th Street, said he had a neighbor who kept chickens in Belleville. The resident also has cats, dogs, rabbits and hamsters.

"They had chickens and it would just stink to high heaven," Valentine said. "Every time we were on our patio, and we like to grill, it stunk. Chickens belong outside of Belleville. I don't want to wake up whenever chickens wake up. A chicken is a chicken: It's going to cluck. They're messy and they get lice."

Alicia Slocomb, who lives in Centreville Township, said hens are pretty self-sufficient and there are no odor or health issues with good coop management.

"It's just like if you were cleaning up after your dog," Slocomb said. "Chickens are pets that produce eggs. Some people have bird feeders and attract birds to their backyard. Ours just happen to be in a coop."

Slocomb got five hens about two years ago because she wanted to know where her eggs were coming from.

"I had been buying fresh eggs through some friends and I just reached a point where I thought, well, this will be a fun hobby," Slocomb said. "My husband was looking for a hobby, too, and I said, 'Build me a chicken coop,' and he did."

Slocomb's property is more than an acre but she discussed raising hens with her immediate neighbors before getting them. Slocomb does not keep a rooster and though the hens make sounds, she said they're not noisy.

"Even if you walked to our front door, there's a good chance you won't know we have chickens," Slocomb said.

Slocomb said she has a friend who keeps hens, as allowed by St. Louis ordinance, at her home about four blocks north of the Edward Jones Dome with no problems.

"It's nice for kids to be able to see where eggs come from and bond with creatures that create their food," Slocomb said. "And, the chickens are amusing to watch because they have their own personalities."

Belleville native Alex Enyart, who initially proposed the idea of legalizing raising chickens in 2012, has circulated a petition for the cause.

The petition states: "We believe such a minor change to Belleville City Code would not create nuisances but, instead, would promote self-sufficiency, sustainability and allow families to teach their children where our food comes from."

Anyone interested in signing the petition can request to join the Facebook group, "BelleVegas Chickens!"

A similar proposal was struck down by the Swansea Village Board in 2012.

In 2012, Belleville city leaders had mixed reactions to Enyart's proposal and said they would need to get feedback from city staff and other constituents.

In response to an informal News-Democrat query for calls, emails and social media messages, about 60 people said they wanted backyard chickens and about 10 said they did not support the idea.

St. Clair County allows the raising of poultry in areas that are designated as agricultural industry and rural residential districts.

The cities within St. Louis County differ in whether they allow backyard chickens. For instance, Richmond Heights, Ladue and Maplewood allow chickens, Ballwin does not and Creve Coeur does depending on lot sizes.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 618-239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BNDJLee.

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