MANSFIELD -- At-Large Councilman Don Bryant doesn't "see a clear path forward" for the backyard chickens ordinance.
"I support the backyard chickens, but I think at this point we're leading this group on to believe that they actually have a shot here," Bryant said during a zoning committee meeting Monday. "I don't see a clear path forward for the backyard chickens group."
He thinks it's time to search for alternative options, such as a "community chickens area," where chickens could be kept on a three-acre parcel in the city.
Currently, chickens are allowed in city limits on properties larger than three acres. Citizens for Mansfield Backyard Chickens is advocating for the approval of a proposal that would allow a maximum of six chickens on a property less than 1/4 acre in size and a maximum of 12 chickens on a property larger than 1/4 acre -- at the discretion of the city, that is.
As part of the proposal, citizens interested in keeping chickens would need to go through a permit process with the codes and permits department.
J.R. Rice, who oversees this department, said applicants would need to submit a site plan that shows where the coop would be located on their property (it must be in a rear yard and be 10 feet from all property lines) and pay a $45 zoning permit fee, he said.
The cost of a first-time permit to keep chickens in the city is another $50, with an annual renewal fee of $30.
Once the site plan is approved, Rice would go to the property and verify that the resident has met all of the requirements.
"I see very, very few instances where I would deny a permit, if any," he said. If there were any issues, Rice said he'd work with the resident to make sure they're up to code.
If the permit were to be denied, then the resident would have the opportunity to appeal to the City Planning Commission for an additional $20.
Fifth Ward Councilman Jason Lawrence, who chairs the zoning committee, raised concerns over the appeal process. He briefly shared his concerns at the last council meeting, which prompted council to approve a motion to send the backyard chickens legislation back to the zoning committee for further discussion.
The planning commission may consider a number of factors when evaluating an appeal, including the possible impact on any residential property values.
Law Director John Spon said it's not unusual to have guidelines such as these, noting, "They don't even have to apply this criteria."
"I just feel that guidelines, which are not mandatory, help provide a general roadmap," Spon said.
Second Ward Councilman Jeff Rock asked about the burden this legislation could place on the codes and permits department.
"That's the million-dollar question," Rice said. "I don't know if we're going to get 10 permits or 100 permits."
But as he's told council many times, "My department is already burdened as it is. Any more work for the department without more manpower is a problem."
Rock brought up the idea of taking the chicken issue to the ballot.
"That's certainly a possibility, but I caution that we take certain issues to the ballot," Spon responded.
He said this could set a dangerous precedent.
"Every time you have an issue dealing with, let's say codes and permits, then you're going to have many people saying, 'You put this particular legislation out to be voted upon by the people, and why can't you do it on the one that we want?'" Spon said.
Plus, if this were voted on and approved in an election and later on people wanted to make a revision, it would have to placed on the ballot again, he noted.
"If that were the only issue for a special election, the cost would be tremendous to the city," he said.
Mansfield resident Scott Zartman suggested making the appeal process part of the codes and permits department's initial investigation when people request a permit to raise chickens in Mansfield.
"If you're going out and doing this enforcement and doing the legwork, so to speak, and paying the $45 or $20 to appeal, why not have that upfront rather than in the back?" he asked.
Matthew Stanfield, who chairs Citizens for Mansfield Backyard Chickens, said the group considered that when drafting the proposal but were advised against it because of the extra burden on codes and permits it would cause.
The zoning committee heard from a handful of backyard chickens opponents who aired concerns that have been mentioned at other meetings, such as odor, noise, the potential detriment it could cause to property values and the issue of enforcement.
"I think that the legislation is inadequate," said Mansfield resident Randy Leedom. "It's really unfair because it pits neighbor against neighbor, citizen against citizen.
"The chicken folks, I'm sure, are well-intentioned, nice people, and I sure wish there was a way to make this a win-win rather than a lose-win situation."
Bill Baker, who supports the chickens proposal, reminded everyone that there have been several meetings on this issue for over a year.
"To the gentleman who said no one on his street wants them, they won't have them," Baker said. "No one on his street is going to get chickens if they're all against it.
"What we're talking about here is being proactive and providing freedom for folks that do want them."
He said there already are people raising chickens in Mansfield and there will be more.
"We're looking to be proactive and address the issue before it becomes an actual major issue," he said.
The zoning committee voted to move the legislation as amended (Bill 17-024) out of committee and placed before council for its second reading Tuesday night.
The legislation is slated to have its third and final reading Tuesday, March 21.