Goshen News, Goshen, IN

March 20, 2014

Chicken bill not cooked

By JOHN KLINE john.kline@goshennews.com
Goshen News

---- — GOSHEN — Goshen’s chicken keeping ordinance has been defeated. But is it really gone for good?

Following Tuesday night’s vote to deny passage of a controversial urban chicken keeping ordinance, Goshen City Council members Dixie Robinson and Jeremy Stutsman joined prominent ordinance supporter John Nafziger Wednesday to reflect on the night’s events and provide predictions for whether or not they see the possibility of a similar ordinance surfacing down the line.

After sitting through nearly an hour and a half of impassioned comments both for and against the proposed ordinance, council members Tuesday voted 4-2 to deny passage of the ordinance citing lingering concerns connected to issues such as property value impact, potential for disease and ability for adequate enforcement.

Voting against the ordinance were council members Ed Ahlersmeyer, Stutsman, Jim McKee and Brett Weddell. Voting for the ordinance were council members Everett Thomas and Robinson. Council member Julia Gautsche was absent from Tuesday’s meeting and therefore unable to vote on the ordinance.

Tuesday’s vote came as a bit of a shock to Nafziger, founder of the 180-member Facebook group Hens for Goshen, which played a major part in getting the ordinance before the council this month.

“I was definitely surprised and disappointed,” Nafziger said of Tuesday’s vote. “As we went in for the meeting, I felt we had a really good chance, and that we’d built a good grassroots support for it. So yes, it was a disappointment.”

The road to Tuesday’s vote had been a long one for Nafziger, who said he first brought the idea of the chicken keeping ordinance to Mayor Allan Kauffman back in 2011.

“Our group was much smaller at that point than it is now,” Nafziger said, “and we were really just brainstorming and thinking about how we might make it happen.”

Reflecting on how things went down Tuesday, Nafziger said while he’s unsure if there is anything his group could have done differently to possibly tip the scales in their direction, he did note that he feels the decision to deny the ordinance outright may have been a bit premature.

“I wish at the council meeting, when it became pretty clear that it wouldn’t pass, that it could have been tabled or postponed instead of voted down completely,” Nafziger said. “I think there are still some possibilities out there yet which could make this work.”

Robinson, one of the original council sponsors of the ordinance, said she was also surprised by Tuesday’s final vote given what appeared to be a willingness by a majority of the council to work with the ordinance earlier on in the meeting.

“I was a little surprised with how it went,” Robinson said. “After listening to the talk and everything, and how some of the others on the council were asking to have changes and amendments made to it, well at that point it seemed like they were going to be OK with it. But it didn’t turn out that way in the end.”

Even though she was disappointed by the outcome, Robinson said she understands why people are concerned about the ordinance.

“I certainly understand peoples’ concerns about this, because I know for example that we’re not doing a great job with enforcing the ordinances we already have in the city,” Robinson said. “But at the same time, people these days are becoming increasingly concerned about where their food is coming from, its quality, etc., and these people with Hens for Goshen and so forth are very sincere about wanting to improve that for their families by raising and growing their own food. So I just wanted them to have the chance to do something that they wanted to do.”

Stutsman, despite having voted against the ordinance, said he too was empathetic with the desire by members of Hens for Goshen and other city supporters to see the ordinance approved.

Even so, Stutsman said Wednesday he stands by his vote, adding that he feels more research and study on the topic of urban chickens is needed before passage of an ordinance can be realistically considered.

“Anytime you have votes like this where there are people on both sides that are really passionate, it’s tough,” Stutsman said. “You can’t feel good about either a yes or a no vote.”

From his perspective, Stutsman said his biggest concern came down to opening up the ordinance to the entire city without first knowing what potential problems may be in the wings.

“Over the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out how to do a test run first, maybe through the use of variances, etc., that would have allowed us to test how this might play out in the long run,” Stutsman said. “But unfortunately, what I’d come up with, they just weren’t good enough ways to do it. So that’s why I voted no, because I thought we needed to take some more time to test this and see if there are more serious issues associated with it.”

As for whether or not this will be the last the city sees of a potential chicken keeping ordinance, Stutsman said he has already had conversations with several Hens for Goshen members about the possibility of a similar ordinance surfacing sometime in the future.

“One of the things I’ve been looking at is to see if we can find a way to create an ordinance that perhaps limits the number of permits or licenses that could be given out, which I think would make it a little more manageable as far as enforcement and tracking than just opening it up to the entire city all at once,” Stutsman said. “I really feel strongly that when creating an ordinance like this, there should be some sort of trail period before it is considered for approval. But that’s not how its been done in the past. It’s a new concept. So we have to figure out how it can be done efficiently and fairly, and that’s something I’d like to look at for this ordinance and those that come after it.”

Robinson was quick to agree.

“I’m hoping that in a few months we may be able to check back in on it, maybe get some information back from some of the other cities and towns in the state who have their own chicken ordinances, and see what kinds of issues and problems they’re dealing with,” Robinson said. “Then once that’s done, maybe we can revisit this again sometime down the line when we’re a little more prepared.”