It could soon be easier to keep backyard chickens in Roeland Park.
The city council discussed making its permitting process more chicken-friendly at Monday’s workshop meeting. The proposed changes would eliminate the need for residents who want to keep chickens to get a special permit, which requires city council approval. Instead, a permit would be issued by city staff.
Up to six hens and an annual allowance of eight chicks are allowed under the current ordinance, but residents must meet strict standards first. Councilwoman Sheri McNeil described the process as “overbearing.” Part of that process involves paying an $80 initial application fee, submitting property and coop location diagrams and appearing before the city council to get approval before the chickens arrive. Owners of cats and dogs do not have to appear before the council to get a license.
McNeil said she’s had several requests to remove the special permit requirement and that issues with chickens in Roeland Park were nonexistent. Eight families are currently registered to keep chickens. The city has received no complaints from any neighbors of chicken owners.
“You pay twice as much for a chicken license or permit as you would for dogs or cats,” McNeil said. “You also have the $80 fee. So it’s a real commitment to have them. I just don’t see why it would be a problem for someone who has that kind of commitment to just go through and file for a regular permit versus a special permit.”
Councilwoman Teresa Kelly agreed that the process should be simpler. She said requiring citizens to speak before the council on the matter was going above and beyond what is necessary.
“I don’t see why we need to require them to have a special permit. Most other cities don’t require a special permit,” Kelly said.
The council was agreed the city should remove the special permit requirement, but disagreed about the language of the changes. Councilman Michael Rhoades asked that the city keep a portion of the ordinance to make a renewal permit come before the council if complaints have been received.
“I don’t mind getting rid of the special permit,” Rhoades said. “But if there is an issue the council retains the ability to act upon that.”
The council agreed to move forward with making adjustments to the ordinance’s language. Removing the special permit requirement is expected to receive final approval at its next meeting.
In other business, the council is still figuring out how to address new state legislation requiring that city elections move to the fall of odd years beginning in 2017. To comply with the new law, the terms of the mayor and council members that normally expire in April 2017 would be extended to January 2018 after a November election.
But, the law could affect Roeland Park’s practice of filling vacancies on the council through special elections.
Roeland Park is the only city in Johnson County that does not fill vacancies by appointment. The new law requires that vacant seats be filled within 60 days and the current city ordinance does not meet that time limit.
If they want to keep special elections under the new law, then the special elections would have to be held in a shorter amount of time, which the city isn’t sure is possible.
The council favored keeping special elections, but would also like to avoid paying for them when vacancies are already scheduled to be filled by a pending election. Special elections cost about $5,000.
Council president Becky Fast said the city has had 13 special elections since 1969. Michael Rhoades and Ryan Kellerman both won the most recent special elections to fill vacant seats on the council.
Special elections will come back to the council for further discussion after the city conducts more research.