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Chickens welcome in Plano backyards, but council’s ordinance change ruffles some feathers

The city had 56 people write in support of backyard hens, while 98 people wrote in opposition.

Plano residents can have chickens in their backyards, but not all residents are happy about it.

The City Council voted 7-1 Monday to change a city ordinance to allow residents to keep hens, but not roosters, so long as they apply for a permit and meet regulations for the animals’ enclosures.

The city had 56 people write in support of backyard hens, while 98 people wrote in opposition.

Any restrictions by homeowner associations or contracts take precedence over the ordinance, Jamey Cantrell, Plano’s director of animal services, said during the meeting.

Council member Rick Grady cast the lone vote against the measure because he said there are some property owners who do not want chickens, and it does not consider their rights.

He said the ordinance was written “extremely well” and commended those involved. But Grady called it “a waste of taxpayer money” because of the potential cost of extra resources and work for the city’s animal control division if people abandon their chickens.

“I am not in support of backyard chickens, and I’m speaking from the experience of being a farm kid a long time ago and dealing with chickens all the time,” he said.

Raising chickens is hard work, as all livestock requires daily care, he said.

“Kiss goodbye the vacations,” he said, “unless you have a chicken baby-sitter.”

Council member Julie Holmer said Plano’s Heritage Farmstead Museum and others, including Richard Wells of Wells Brothers Pet, Lawn and Garden Supply, who also spoke at the meeting, will provide tips for people who want to raise chickens. But she cautioned that the farm will not accept your chickens if you decide you don’t want them anymore.

“I would not go into this lightly before making an investment and commitment to having an animal in your yard,” she said. “Get with someone that already has hens and get the experience for yourself firsthand before taking that next step.”

Embher Chaffin, a member of the Plano Hens group on Facebook, said during the meeting that the ordinance was written with respect for people who want to keep hens and their neighbors, as well as the safety of the animals.

Members of the group said on Facebook that opposition to the ordinance came too late to make a difference, since they’ve been working with the city to pass it since April 2020.

Here’s what you should know about the change and how it came to pass.

How did we get here?

Supporters have long advocated for backyard hens, including U.S. Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, who as a state senator in 2017 laid out a bill to prevent cities from banning them.

The idea took wing during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, when eggs increased in price and were at times sold out in grocery stores. Casey Cutler, manager of Good Local Markets in Dallas, told The Dallas Morning News that her husband’s business, Urban Chicken, couldn’t keep up with the flood of requests for live chickens.

The council received an informational report on the fledgling idea in June 2020 and answers to additional questions last September before tabling the issue.

Council members again hatched the idea this past June, when several residents spoke in favor of raising backyard hens. They noted that surrounding communities have had success with allowing the practice.

On Aug. 16, Plano’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted 8-0 to change the city’s zoning ordinance as a first step to allowing hens.

Can you have any kind of chicken?

Only hens are allowed. Roosters are prohibited.

How many hens can you have?

The city’s ordinance allows for up to 10 adult animals.

What are the requirements for coops?

Owners can let hens roam the yard during daylight hours under adult supervision, and coops or enclosures must:

  • Be located behind a fence at least 6 feet high and meet distance requirements from neighboring buildings (20 feet for enclosures of up to five animals, 50 feet for enclosures of up to 10).
  • Have at least 4 square feet of space for each hen.
  • Have an attached exercise yard with at least 8 square feet of space per hen.
  • Protect the hens from inclement weather, insect bites and attacks by other animals.
  • Have at least 10 inches of roosting space for each hen and one nesting box for every four hens.

Do I need a permit to own hens?

Residents need to apply for a permit and pay a fee determined by the council. The application must include:

  • Floor plans and side elevations for the proposed enclosure or the manufacturer, model and size of a commercially available coop.
  • A site drawing showing the proposed location for the enclosure that includes all property lines, building lines, setbacks and other structures on the property.
  • Written, notarized authorization from the property owner, if it’s someone other than the applicant, allowing backyard hens.
  • Proof of completing an educational course approved by the Animal Services Department on backyard hen care and sanitation.

What if people get tired of their chickens?

When the council first considered the issue in April 2020, Animal Services director Jamey Cantrell said he was concerned about the birds ending up at the animal shelter. Anyone who wants to raise chickens should consider what’s required to take care of them, he said.

His department has seen a steady increase in the number of chickens captured or surrendered, from eight in fiscal year 2017-18 to 14 last year. Since the current fiscal year began Oct. 1, 2020, Cantrell told The Dallas Morning News, the city had already taken in 24 chickens through August.

Can residents sell the eggs?

Yes, if they abide by federal, state and local regulations.

What are the rules in other cities?

Sachse and Fairview have generous limits or no limits at all on the number of chickens a resident can raise. Coppell forbids all chickens. Addison allows three birds per property and Garland four. In Dallas, there’s no maximum.

Teri Webster, Special Contributor. Teri Webster is a freelancer covering Plano for The Dallas Morning News. She has worked as a staff writer and freelancer for several area news outlets and is a regular contributor to Fort Worth Weekly. Email story tips to writerteriw@gmail.com.

writerteriw@gmail.com

Jamie Hancock. Jamie Hancock is the North Texas Editor and the internship coordinator at The Dallas Morning News, where she's worked since 2005. She was previously the assistant politics editor; the editor of Briefing, a home-delivered edition of The News; and a sports copy editor. Jamie graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with degrees in journalism and English.

jdhancock@dallasnews.com /jamiedhancock jamiedhancock
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