Sara Braden left the May 18 Oklahoma City Council meeting pleased. More than pleased, even, "on cloud nine."
Nearly a year after Braden launched a petition to change zoning codes to allow urban chickens, the council had a survey in hand that supported her idea. The results: 69 percent of polled residents support urban chickens with restrictions. And the City Council, although some were firmly against it, weren't nearly as opposed as she assumed they were going to be.
As chicken supporters filled up the back of the chamber " many sporting a homemade badge featuring a chicken drawing " the council members discussed the survey.
Brian Walters, Ward 5, supported chickens outright.
"They're wanting to teach their children responsibility "¦ where food comes from," Walters said. "The people that are going to do this are our most responsible citizens."
Pete White, Ward 4, also supported chickens, but said he didn't want to be a "Don Quixote" about the issue if the rest of the council opposed it.
Meg Salyer, Ward 6, said there are already plenty of 1-acre lots in the metro, which current zoning laws say is the minimum acreage needed to keep chickens. In fact, she said she lived on a property in Edgemere Park for 18 years that was on an acre.
Larry McAtee, Ward 3, was succinct in his opposition of urban chickens: "I'm against chickens, and my neighborhoods are against chickens."
Sam Bowman, Ward 2, and who requested the survey, had a different approach: Allow chickens on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. It's something he said he'd like to look into further after the city budget is completed.
"It's a hurry-up-and-wait situation," Braden said, "but as far as I'm concerned, it went very, very good. And there were some surprises, and all the surprises were good."
Braden first went before the City Council late in 2009 to present her petition, and from that, a citywide survey was developed that asked residents a simple question: Do you support backyard chickens?
The survey was handled through Neighborhood Alliance, and 1,174 people responded. Respondents could check "no," "yes" or "yes, with restrictions." There were seven restrictions listed, most dealing with number of chickens, enclosures and permitting.
A total of 69 percent of respondents said "yes" to urban chickens " 37 percent a straight yes, and 32 percent yes, with restrictions " and 31 percent said "no." Of those supporting restrictions, the most popular were requirements the backyard be kept clean and that the chickens have an enclosure.
ZIP codes 73118, 73107 and 73112, which extend to the near north and west of downtown and include Edgemere Park, Crestwood and the Mayfair neighborhoods, had the most respondents by far, and the majority of those supported chickens.
It was in the 627 comments, however, that there is a real sense of why people supported or opposed chickens.
Many mentioned larger, progressive cities like New York, Seattle and Chicago that also allow chickens. The negative responses mostly concentrated on a perceived noise and smell associated with chickens. Overall, it's a topic many felt strongly about.
"I do not want crazy neighbors with chickens. Oklahoma has plenty of farm and open lands for this sort of 'back to nature' (activity)," said one respondent.
"Many cities and towns allow chickens," said another. "It is absurd that OKC does not."
Concentrating on those other cities was a tactic Braden used at the City Council meeting. With the help of two of her children, she unfurled homemade banners: a visual representation of 30 NBA cities " 23 that allow urban chickens and the seven that don't.
But it's not just other "big league cities" the council has considered. In November, a peer cities study looked at eight similarly sized cities and their chicken codes. Of those cities " Austin, El Paso and Fort Worth, Texas; Nashville, Tenn.; St. Louis; Kansas City, Mo.; Wichita, Kan.; and Tulsa " only Kansas City bans chickens.
Although no decision was made at the City Council meeting, most members and Mayor Mick Cornett agreed that more information is needed; it is a topic they will delve into later in the year. "Jenny Coon Peterson
Read the survey here.