SHELDON—Christine Reiter has evidence that fellow Sheldon residents crying fowl about the possibility of backyard chickens in the community are misinformed.
“We’ve had chickens in Sheldon for over 12 years,” she told the Sheldon City Council during its meeting Wednesday, Nov. 4. “Nobody has had an issue, I got statements from all my neighbors, I’ve done lots of research.
“We’re in rural Iowa. As far as a small town, six chickens is not unreasonable to be kept any different than your dogs, your cats, your rabbits, various other animals. Not only have they been a therapy pet for my foster children, but for myself and my son with Down syndrome.”
Chickens continue to be a hot-button issue in Sheldon as officials try to determine what should be done about the increased requests for special exemptions to maintain backyard flocks in the community.
When it met Oct. 28, the Sheldon Planning & Zoning Commission, in a split vote, rejected a proposed ordinance amendment that would allow small backyard flocks through a Sheldon Board of Adjustment permitting process.
Had the commission approved it, the measure would have been presented to the council for eventual approval.
During her time at the podium, Reiter also disputed comments made by Sheldon poultry farmer Merlin DeGroot to the commission in which he said chickens attract varmints and other pests.
“We’ve never had an issue with any type of rodent or predator or our flock. We have not had any issues arise with any of our neighbors in the 12 years we’ve owned chickens,” she said.
“I did day care for 13 years — the state of Iowa knew about my flock and actually interacted with them — and I’ve never had an issue with that.”
Reiter also again argued that people did not know she had chickens until the subject became part of the public discourse.
“With them being a pet — almost like a dog — they are less of a nuisance to neighbors and various other people,” she said.
“Nobody really knew about ours until people started looking around at their neighbors once it became a hot topic in Sheldon.”
Reiter also suggested the city of Sheldon consider adopting the city of Cedar Rapids’ urban poultry ordinance.
According to that ordinance, people can apply for one-year permits — at a cost of $25 — to keep up to six hens. No roosters are allowed.
Additionally, applicants have to provide to notice to “residents of all immediately adjacent dwellings of the applicant’s intent to obtain a permit,” and pass a class on raising chickens in an urban setting.
The only chicken-related items on the agenda for last Wednesday’s meeting were receiving the P&Z commission’s report and the third reading of an ordinance amendment that would remove the Sheldon City Council’s ability to approve special exemptions for poultry.
The council approved the ordinance amendment that takes chickens off their plate, but the officials also took time to discuss the community’s ongoing poultry problems.
Councilman Pete Hamill said DeGroot made some interesting points at the Oct. 28 commission meeting against chickens but that he also thought Reiter made good arguments for chickens during the council meeting.
City manager Sam Kooiker clarified to the council that the commission still could recommend an ordinance — similar to the one Reiter proposed — that would be less restrictive on chickens. The commission meets as needed.
Before the council voted to remove its ability to grant special exemptions for backyard poultry, Hamill pondered where that would leave things and city attorney Micah Schreurs provided a legal explanation.
“You have two codes: City code, zoning code,” he said. “If nothing happens today other than you approve the amendment to the city code, chickens no longer come through the city council; however, if Sam and P&Z do nothing further, you still have the existing zoning code, which does allow livestock in certain limited circumstances.”