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A student in a pink jacket chases after a chicken. 

It's been seven years since the Nixa City Council cooked up a debate on urban chicken keeping, but a bill to allow Nixa residents to keep chickens in their backyards will likely be a hot topic again in 2021.

At a city council meeting April 12, Nixa Director of Planning and Development Garrett Tyson presented the findings and recommendations he had for chicken allowance legislation. Presently, chickens may only be kept in agricultural zones within the Nixa city limits.

"There is an exception in the code for the school district and other education facilities to do some chicken husbandry, but as far as allowing that in residential districts, it remains prohibited," Tyson said.

Tyson said that other communities in the Springfield metropolitan area allow for urban chickens.

"I think over time it has become a little bit more normal and customary than maybe it was in the past, even in urban and suburban settings," Tyson said.

District 3 Councilwoman Darlene Graham championed the cause of the chickens in 2014, and put her support behind the new effort in 2021.

"New York, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Kansas City, big towns in Texas and Springfield all have chicken ordinances, and here, a town like ours that's got a lot of rural terriotory in it--they can't have them," Graham said. "I think this is something we should just go ahead and do and pass."

Chicken ownership, Graham said, is a responsibility. Some of Nixa's future fowl raisers will face a learning curve, but Graham believes people are interested in raising their own sources of food.

"I think that this is something that would benefit an awful lot of people. I think that they're going to find out that if they want to do this it's going to take a lot of time and energy. You can't leave (chickens) for a week and expect them to behave themselves, or to be fed, watered and taken care of," Graham said.

Tyson didn't see it as his job duty to weigh in on the any part of the debate beyond the perspective of a city planner.

"From a land use perspective, I don't have many concerns. I think that if people are responsible and if it's carefully regulated in terms of keeping it to a certain scale, I don't think that you would experience that types of externalities that I would be concerned with," Tyson said.

An "externality" occurs when what one person does on his/her property affects what happens on someone else's property, like a neighbor's property.

Existing nuisance codes would apply in the event that foul odors or noises rose to the level that they create a disturbance for neighboring property owners. Beyond that, Tyson said Nixa would be best served by reminding chicken owners of existing laws against animal cruelty and animals at large.

Setback requirements for outbuildings and sheds found in zoning codes would regulate chicken coops. Chickens would be required to be kept in some sort of enclosure, and would not be allowed free range in Nixa's subdivisions.

"If you keep the scale appropriate, I think most people will be responsible in their behavior toward this," Tyson said.

The Nixa City Council last debated a bill that would allow residents to keep chickens in their backyards in 2014. That bill came up one vote short of being adopted into ordinance on its second and final reading.

Former councilman Andy Ellis and then-councilman Brian Steele, now Nixa’s mayor, voted against the urban chicken bill, causing it to die by a 3-2 vote with one member of the city council absent for the second reading. It failed to obtain the four affirmative votes necessary to pass on March 5, 2014.

Barnhardt was arrested in 2013 due to what was later explained to be a “clerical error” by city employees. She was originally given a ticket for violating city ordinances when a neighbor complained about her chickens. The Nixa City Council directed staff members to put the ticket and court summons on hold, but the hold didn’t happen after debate on the city council dragged from October 2013 into April 2014.

Barnhardt didn’t appear in court because there was a hold on her original summons, and then a warrant was issued for her arrest. She then posted a $100 bond and was released from the Nixa Police Department.

Pro-chicken residents of Nixa attempted to petition for a ballot question on urban chickens, using procedures outlined in the Nixa Home Rule Charter. However, they failed to obtain enough signatures for an initiative petition within their allotted 90 days in 2014, and the petitioning effort also died out.

At the meeting April 12, Nixa City Administrator Jimmy Liles said that the bill staff would suggest for urban chickens would be a pared down version of a bill that the Nixa City Council turned down in 2014. The bill would limit chicken ownership to no more than six hens, and would prohibit roosters inside the city limits.

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