Some issues need a lot of discussion and effort to get a consensus on what city residents will tolerate.
Allowing residents to raise chickens and other farm animals in residential neighborhoods is proving to be one of those issues.
The decisions to allow yard animals in municipal neighborhoods aren’t of the earth-shaking variety.
They’re not fraught with moral questions or objections. However, the discussions are coming up more often in communities across Iowa.
Waterloo city leadership has, in our opinion, come up with a solid compromise that seems like a good cautionary move at this juncture. An ordinance approved 6-1 Monday by Waterloo City Council members is not as lenient as one proposed earlier this month by the Planning, Programming and Zoning Commission, but it does make it easier for some city residents to raise chickens and other animals.
“It’s a move that’s long overdue,” said Councilman Pat Morrissey, who had pushed for the ordinance. “It’s a step forward; it’s allowing something to happen with some very strict regulations.”
Councilman Steve Schmitt cast the lone vote against the new ordinance.
“The people I’ve heard from are concerned about having farms in their backyard,” Schmitt said. “It seems to me that allowing more farm animals in town is not going to enhance the appeal of Waterloo. … We’re really opening up a Pandora’s box here potentially.”
Late last year, the Cedar Falls City Council voted 4-3 to maintain a ban on city residents from keeping chickens in their yards.
A Waterloo city ordinance adopted in 2011 allowed residents to keep chickens, goats or other traditional farm animals only after getting the approval of the Board of Adjustment following a public hearing.
This new ordinance allows residents to avoid the Board of Adjustment process, provided they meet some pretty significant criteria.
In the past, we have been in favor of close neighbors having an equal voice on this issue. This ordinance has provisions for that. Residents would have to have enough fenced backyard space to support the animals, plus a petition of support signed by all abutting property owners and 60 percent of those within 250 feet of their property.
The ordinance allows people with at least 10,000 square feet of fenced back yard to keep up to two small animals, like chickens, rabbits, minks and geese. Another small animal is allowed for each additional 2,500 feet of fenced yard up to a maximum of eight.
The ordinance also covers rules for keeping larger animals in city limits, such as cows, sheep, goats and llamas.
A person would need up to 40,000 square feet of fenced back yard — nearly an acre – to keep up to four large or intermediate farm animals.
“It’s proposed in a way that in most instances most residences within the city of Waterloo are still not going to have sufficient area to be able to have a hobby farm,” said City Planner Aric Schroeder.
“In many instances, even if they have the minimum, they’ll have to get support of surrounding property owners.”
Neighborhood support is the key factor, and we support its inclusion in this ordinance.
This is an issue where the city should progress slowly and deliberately, making incremental changes ─ in either direction ─ only after observing how previous ordinances work out.
The city of Waterloo seems to have come to a palatable compromise, and we thank the council for moving cautiously on this issue.