By JIM KRAJEWSKI
An animal protection and control ordinance was adopted by the City Council of Webster City following a 3-2 vote at their meeting on Monday.
Jeff Pingel presents photos of chickens, owned by his neighbors, running loose and defacing his property to the City Council of Webster City on Monday.
The ordinance was adopted following the third reading of the ordinance which also passed by a 3-2 vote. Councilman John Hawkins and Councilman Geary Meyer voted against both the reading and adoption of the ordinance.
The ordinance was presented for its first reading at the March 3 council meeting. The second reading of the ordinance on March 17 failed following comments from community members including Mike Wiemann, owner of Critter Nation in Webster City. His concerns included ordinance language which would have limited the number of pets that could be owned in one household.
The council revisited the ordinance at a work session on April 28. They removed the numerical limit on pets from the ordinance and made several other changes. At another work session on June 3, the council discussed adding language which would allow people in residential zones in Webster City to keep chickens on their property. That language was included when the first reading of the revised ordinance was approved on June 17.
The now adopted ordinance puts some restrictions on those who own chickens in residential areas. Chickens cannot be kept inside single-family, multi-family or rental-dwelling units. They have to be kept in a coop in a backyard, and cannot be used for commercial purposes.
At Monday's meeting, Councilman Logan Welch addressed concerns about allowing residential chickens in Webster City. Welch said he's heard from concerned community members and seen negative reactions on social media. However, he said that before the ordinance was adopted, there was no language on how to police chickens in the community.
"Yes, this ordinance is allowing them, but it's restricting their use," Welch said. "If we left the ordinance as-is, we really couldn't do much with some of the things that have been the major concerns with what's going on in our community."
Getter also addressed the controversy. He said that, overall, the ordinance's language on enforcement will be an asset to the Webster City Police Department.
"All things considered, while I'm sure we have differences of view, the positives give our police officers an opportunity and a clear ability to enforce an ordinance when a complaint arises," Getter said.
From the earliest readings of the ordinance, members of council said it came about due to the large number of complaints that the Webster City Police Department regularly receives pertaining to animals. The ordinance includes language on citations which would be issued to those who violate it. The fines for citations begin at $50 for the first one issued, increasing to $100 for the second and $150 for the third if those following citations are given within a three-year period. The council has also discussed the use of municipal infractions as a way to bring about compliance. A municipal infraction carries a $750 fine.
At Monday's meeting, Getter said he recently talked about the ordinance with Wiemann. While they both felt comfortable with the language, Getter said they were concerned that such an ordinance is necessary.
"Neighborliness should be a driving force and we shouldn't have to have this language, but the challenge of our times is we're not as neighborly as we used to be," Getter said.
Jeff Pingel, who said his neighbors keep chickens in their home, spoke against the language on chickens at Monday's meeting. He presented a petition to the council, signed by 103 community members, which opposed allowing chickens in the city limits of Webster City. He also called the council's attention to poll posted on The Daily Freeman-Journal's website which asked if the City of Webster City should allow chickens within the city limits. As of Monday evening, 69 percent of voters said no while 29 percent said yes.
"If you allow chickens, you're going against what the people of Webster City had voted for," Pingel said.
In response, Getter said the online poll is anonymous and allows people to vote more than once. As such, he said it's not clearly representative of the population of Webster City.
Members of the City Council heard a variety of differing opinions from the community prior to the adoption of the ordinance. Councilman Matt McKinney said the opinions expressed to him were not made in polarized 'yes' or 'no' comments. He said those who spoke to him were mostly concerned with keeping residential chickens restricted to their owner's property just like any other pet. Welch said opinions he heard were fairly split between support and opposition. Both Hawkins and Meyer said the majority of comments they heard were against residential chickens.
Meyer, who has voted against each reading of the revised ordinance, maintained his opposition.
"I don't think there's a single family that has chickens now that's going to be able to comply with this ordinance," Meyer said. "What are they going to do with them during the winter? Most of them are not cooped. I think I only know one that's cooped and four that are not."
Following the adoption of the ordinance, Getter thanked everyone who had been involved with the process of creating and revising the ordinance. He said the council was creative in finding ways to get opinions and perspectives from the community.