Kenai considers allowing some chickens on more city properties
It’s cold and snowing in Nikiski, but the hens in Lisa Hansen’s backyard coop don’t seem to mind.
“So these are some of the ladies,” Hansen cooed to the hens Friday. “Hi girls!”
The eight hens are just a portion of Hansen’s flock. She’s in the process of moving them out to her homestead from Kenai, where she was previously renting a home with her family.
In the city, Hansen’s daughter had an educational permit to host some chickens for a 4-H project. When the Hansens applied to renew the permit, they were denied, partly on the basis that they had more chickens than they were allowed by their application. The Board of Adjustments gave them one additional year and told them to reduce their flock size.
Even though she doesn’t live in Kenai anymore, Hansen said she wants to make sure residents within city limits can have flocks of chickens, if they want to, regardless of whether they have a special permit.
She’s supporting an ordinance in Kenai to allow hens on some small lots in the city.
“I think it’s important to me and to my family because the way it affected us and the opportunity that was limited for our daughter,” Hansen said. “We were hugely impacted.”
The current ordinance revives a debate about keeping chickens within city limits that has come up and been defeated by the council twice before, in 2013 and 2015.
The new ordinance, as written, would allow Kenai residents to keep up to 12 hens on lots smaller than 40,000 square feet. (As it stands, residents in some parts of the city can already keep chickens on parcels larger than that and residents on smaller parcels can apply for conditional use permits to do so.)
The ordinance would not allow residents to keep roosters and there would be certain neighborhoods where chickens would still be illegal, including in parts of Old Town Kenai. Hens would be limited to enclosed shelters or would have to be fully fenced in, and there are rules about setbacks from roads and neighbors yards.
The ordinance is sponsored by Kenai City Council members Alex Douthit and Teea Winger, who say it’s important to allow chickens inside city limits for food security, citing the high price of eggs and ongoing supply chain issues.
But the ordinance is controversial. At a city council meeting Wednesday, Kenai residents — many of them from the Woodlands Subdivision, in North Kenai, where Hansen lived — made impassioned testimony on either side.
Dan Conetta said he moved to Woodlands in 1998 so he wouldn’t have to live next to farm animals or sled dogs.
“If I wanted to live in an area with less regulations, I could’ve bought property outside city limits,” he told the council.
Some neighbors said they’re worried about the impacts of noise or chickens running loose. Council members proposed amendments that would reduce the number of chickens allowed in some areas or restrict coops to to residents’ backyards.
Victoria Askin, a member of the city council who has her own chickens, said the ordinance needed some more parameters about structure and lot size. Council member Deborah Sounart said she thought the ordinance was too broad and left too many questions.
“If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right,” Sounart said. “And even if it means another 10 days, another 14 days, let’s get it done right instead of trying to rush it through tonight and then down the road — sorry, I have to do the pun — we end up with egg on our face.”
Last month, the ordinance got a conditional thumbs-up from the city’s planning and zoning commission, which said it would like to hammer out some of the details before the city council approves a final ordinance.
And at its meeting this week, the council, after a long discussion, agreed to send the ordinance back to the commission for another look. Planning and zoning will hold a work session later this month to hash out details, like number of chickens and lot size. Then, the ordinance will come back to the council, for an additional chance for public comment on March 1.
Hansen will be cheering the ordinance on from her homestead, in Nikiski.
She finds the food security argument compelling. She said when she had chickens in Kenai, she would hand eggs out to neighbors.
“It’s really important for people to have the option to have chickens, if they want some,” Hansen said.
She has plans to expand the Nikiski homestead, including six chicken coops, sheep and high tunnels. And now that she’s not in Kenai any more, she has free range to do so.