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Kenai Council: chicken's off the menu

Posted: June 6, 2013 - 8:56pm

The roughly 7-month-old chicken ordinance was shot down in Wednesday’s Kenai City Council meeting. Most city residents seeking to raise backyard chickens will now have to apply through the city’s conditional use permit process.

Kenai Mayor Pat Porter said she opposes the entire ordinance for a good reason: bears.

“I know what a difficult time it was two year ago,” Porter said telephonically.

About two years ago, the city had to take “drastic measures” to address its bear problems, she said. Many residents had to clear their property of bear attractants — bird feed, dog food, chickens, garbage — and some had to install bear-proof garbage containers, she said.

“I don’t want to bring (the bear problem) back again,” she said. It would contradict the city’s policy of reducing bear attractants.

Wednesday night was the fourth meeting the city held to take action on the ordinance that council member Mike Boyle brought forward at a Nov. 7 meeting. Ordinance 2656-2012, in its original form, would have allowed residents to raise up to a dozen chickens for non-commercial uses without having to apply for a conditional use permit.

But, following a public hearing, a planning and zoning meeting and a council meeting, city council voted 4-3 to kill the ordinance. Council members Bob Molloy, Terry Bookey and Boyle voted for its passage.

“We should have certain rights and privileges because we own (our homes), and we live there,” Boyle said.

Some residents agreed. Heidi Chay, district manager for the Kenai Soil & Water Conservation District, said at the November council meeting that chickens have many benefits. They produce fertilizer for gardens, eat garden pests and food waste and provide a local source of food.

All along, residents seeking chickens could apply though its conditional use permitting process, but Boyle said the process is cumbersome. His goal was to streamline chicken ownership by circumventing the conditional use permits.

But most opposition to the ordinance agreed with Porter: chickens are a bear attractant.

During a Nov. 21 public hearing, Jeff Selinger, Kenai area wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said chickens were the top cause for defense of life and property brown bear killings for 2012 on the Kenai Peninsula.

And, with its proximity to salmon-spawning rivers and streams, Kenai is frequented by brown bears, according to a Nov. 15 Fish and Game letter to Porter. In 2004, Fish and Game responded to more than 100 resident complaints of “nuisance” bear activity, according to the letter.

Electric fences can effectively deter bears from coops when setup properly, Selinger said at the Nov. 21 meeting. But the chickens and their feed still attract bears to the neighborhood, said Dave Battle, Anchorage-based Fish and Game area biologist.

Since Anchorage instituted a similar ordinance, the city has seen a rise in bear activity, Battle said.

Kenai City Manager Rick Koch said though the ordinance failed, residents can still own chickens. Those living on lots 40,000-square-feet or larger can own chickens without applying through the city’s conditional use permit process. Others living on smaller properties can still apply through the conditional use permit process.

But “in the seven years I’ve been here, not one person has applied,” Koch said.

Council members Tim Navarre and Brian Gabriel Sr. said they support the conditional use process for residents acquiring chickens.

“I feel like we’re kind of beating a dead horse here, to be honest with you,” Gabriel said about the ordinance.

Navarre said the conditional use process is responsible because it allows the city to vet those applying. Residents had said without that process, chicken coops could pop up in neighbor’s backyards without notice, pitting residents against each other.

After watching his ordinance pass through council for about 7 months, only to fail, Boyle said he does not know if he will draft another chicken ordinance. Why create legislation, he said, if it will just fail?

“No sense in beating my head on the wall,” he said.

The City of Kenai will post several signs along a section of North Beach to influence all-terrain vehicle traffic speeds, following discussion at a Wednesday city council meeting.

The city will place five or six signs requesting that motorists “please limit” their speed to 25 miles-per-hour along the section of North Beach from Spruce Street north to where the bluff-side houses end, City Manager Rick Koch said. The signs, covering less than a half mile, will go up by the end of week, he said.

A resident of the area, Sue Carter, said she had become concerned about the fast-moving ATV and motorcycle traffic along that section of the beach.

“All I would want is just a sign that would make people aware and cautious,” Carter said.

Children and families play in that area, and motorist could hit them, she said.

Koch said he has gotten few complaints about the issue. In the past year, he received 11 — 10 of which were from Carter, he said.

“Honestly, we receive very, very few complaints,” he said.

The signs do not establish a beach speed limit, he said, just a guidance. Koch and other council members were concerned a speed limit would be too difficult to enforce. Koch said the city would be accused of not enforcing its ordinances.

Carter said the signs will help.

“I’m just concerned,” she said.

Dan Schwartz can be reached at daniel.schwartz@peninsulaclarion.com.

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