A Franklin woman wants to be able to get freshly laid eggs from her backyard for breakfast and teach her kids about where their food comes from.
But under current city rules, Kathy Thomas isn’t allowed to build a coop and raise chickens at her Graham Street home. She is asking for the city to consider a change.
Raising chickens in urban areas is a growing trend nationwide. Many communities — including Indianapolis, Bloomington and Brownsburg — allow residents to raise chickens.
Current Franklin zoning rules don’t allow residents to raise non-domestic animals such as chickens, rabbits or pigs within city limits. City council members are divided on whether to allow chicken coops and laying hens in neighborhoods and want to know if more people would be interested in raising small animals, such as chickens or rabbits.
Council members asked Thomas to try to gather signatures of people who would be interested in starting their own coops or residents who wouldn’t mind living next door to one. The council then would have a better idea of whether there is enough interest to draft new rules or whether most residents would be strongly opposed to the change.
“We might be surprised at the level of interest,” city council member Joe Abban said.
Thomas would like to have a coop with four to six chickens by spring. She wants to teach her three children, with the oldest in kindergarten, about where their food comes from and responsibility by having them help feed and care for the animals.
And not only do fresh eggs have more nutritional value, but buying four to five chicks costs less than two dozen organic eggs from the supermarket, she said.
When those chicks grow into hens, they can produce eggs for about six years and also eat up to 100 pounds of food scraps per year, reducing the amount of trash a family makes, she said. She’d like to build a coop that would keep the chickens fenced in at all times, with a laying house and small outdoor area for the hens to move around.
Concerns such as sound, smell or disease shouldn’t be a problem for nearby neighbors, Thomas said. Crowing roosters wouldn’t be needed, and hens make little noise. The small amount of manure from a few chickens would not create an unpleasant smell or disease risk if the coop is properly cleaned, she said.
Despite the current zoning rules, officials know chicken and rabbits are already in the city, Franklin senior planner Joanna Myers said. The city receives complaints about chickens or rabbits about twice per year, such as in February when a neighbor reported a woman on North Main Street who had nine chickens that were eating his grass seed.
The homeowner with the chickens asked the city for a variance because they were being raised by her granddaughter as a 4-H project, but the city denied the request, and she had to get rid of the animals, Myers said.
Thomas asked the council to change the rules to allow chickens but didn’t suggest any specific rules for coops, location or maintenance.
Council members were divided on the issue. Steve Barnett and Ken Austin were both concerned about the effects on neighbors, especially if coops weren’t well maintained. Barnett also questioned the amount of time and cost for the city attorney and Myers to draft rules that might only benefit only a few homeowners.
But Rob Henderson and Richard Wertz said there might be interest in raising small animals, including rabbits for 4-H projects or personal pets. Since the city already has found residents raising those animals in the past, gauging interest and creating rules to help the city regulate the animals could be the right decision, Henderson said.
Abban said a large urban chickens display at the Indianapolis Home Show this year signals a growing trend in household food production.
Cities that allow chicken coops, including Indianapolis, have rules that restrict the number of animals, distance from homes or property lines and coop-building requirements. Franklin could consider similar rules, including where the chickens are housed, the type of coop, how it is constructed and where it is located on the property, and maintenance of coops and properties, Myers said.
Council member Joe Ault said he at first thought the idea had several drawbacks for neighbors but has changed his mind and thinks residents could own chickens with the right rules in place.
“I think I’ve come around to your way of thinking,” he said. “I for one think it would be feasible.”
If the city developed rules to allow backyard chickens, homeowners associations could adopt and enforce their own rules to ban livestock, city attorney Lynn Gray said.