July 2, 2013


Allowing people to raise chickens in town would make it more difficult to attract new residents, Denison Mayor Dennis Fineran said at a council meeting last month in response to a young resident's request to have the birds in her backyard.

The council is poised to vote on the issue at its meeting today.

"They smell. There are diseases. There ares other things why we've moved away from it 20 years ago," Fineran said. "I don't want to step back into the 1950s in Denison, Iowa. It's hard enough to get people to Denison."

Meriah Summerfield, 25, seeks an exception to a Denison law that forbids livestock in town but allows the city council to grant the privilege on a case-by-case basis. She said she has talked to her immediate neighbors, who signed off on the idea.

"There are cities across the nation where this a movement that they're going forward with," she said in her plea to council members. "It's about being more 'green' and self-sustaining."

Denison is at least the fifth city in western Iowa to consider the backyard birds in the past year. Lake City unanimously approved an ordinance in August that allows residents to have up to six egg-laying hens on a single-family property. Similar ordinances were later defeated in Lake View and Breda.

The Breda City Council gave early approval to the ordinance but reversed itself after residents voiced their disdain.

A Jefferson woman asked city leaders last month to let her have chickens, but they asked her to collect signatures on a petition from other residents and provide money to cover the expense of codifying new city law.

"It's quite an expense to the city to change the ordinance," Councilwoman Shannon Black said. "It's not just a simple procedure that we do. We've asked (others) to put their money where their mouth is, to help with that."

The resident did not return with petition or money to the next meeting.

Iowa's two largest cities allow people to raise chickens. Cedar Rapids approved its "urban chicken" ordinance in 2010, and in Des Moines residents have long been allowed up to about 30 chickens on most residential properties.

In Denison, council members were split on Summerfield's request last month.

"My position is the situation is going to open the door, and where does it stop?" Councilman Daniel Ahart said.

But Councilman Pete Rodriguez compared chickens to dogs - which he said can be dangerous, loud and smelly.

"And a chicken, well, they're not as dangerous as a dog," he said. "I think that's a plus."

Councilman Nathan Mahrt, who lives near Summerfield, said there was another resident in the neighborhood who had chickens several years ago that went unnoticed by neighbors.

Reporter Victoria Riley contributed to this article.