No harm, no fowl: City Council passes moratorium on chicken prosecutions

Nicki Wood provided this photo of chickens she keeps at her Stillwater residence.

It may be true that when chickens are outlawed only outlaws will have chickens, but Stillwater’s poultry scofflaws can rest easy for a while. The City Council approved a moratorium Monday that stops the enforcement of municipal ordinances that prohibit keeping all types of fowl at residences within the city limits.

People who own chickens within Stillwater’s corporate limits won’t face prosecution while the moratorium remains in effect.

City Attorney John Dorman said it’s the result of an ongoing discussion in the community. The moratorium gives the City time to work out a solution with backyard poultry hobbyists who want to be able to keep a few chickens in their yards.

They have been organizing online and conferring with the leaders of similar groups in other Oklahoma towns since Nikki Wood, a Stillwater resident who considers her six chickens to be beloved pets and a source of emotional support, put out a call for help after being informed by city code enforcement last month that she would have to get rid of her small flock of hens.

Stillwater’s enforcement has generally been complaint driven so chicken lovers living in most residential areas of town generally haven’t had any issues unless their chickens got out or one of their neighbors had a problem with it.

Chickens and other species of fowl aren’t specifically outlawed in Stillwater, but they are limited to very large residential tracts where their coops can be at least 150 feet from any house or to agricultural zoning where that buffer drops to 50 feet.

Those types of properties are rare in Stillwater.

Dorman said it’s more complicated than it seems because it’s not just about an animal code; that animal code interacts with zoning and health codes.

Backyard poultry is a national trend and chicken keeping is very different now than when the city’s ordinance was originally adopted, he said. You can find elaborate, self-contained coops readily available at most farm stores.

Mayor Will Joyce made it clear that owning chickens within the city limits remains criminal and he expressed frustration with the situation, likening it to the company that suddenly dropped Bird scooters in town. He says forcing the city government to react to a single issue isn’t a very efficient approach and the people who have chickens knew they weren’t legal when they got them.

“The solution is not to just break the law then come back and ask us to change the law,” Joyce said.

The moratorium doesn’t mean it’s suddenly a free-for-all.

Dorman said holding off on enforcing laws against keeping chickens doesn’t mean chickens roaming at large, nuisance complaints and health code violations won’t be investigated.

“In the end, they are still chickens and you have to be vigilant,” he said.

In other business, the Council amended the ordinance that created the city’s Tax Increment Financing district to allow Payne County and Meridian Technology Center to collect their full share of ad valorem tax on any property developed in the TIF area without the benefit of public investment. That includes two large, student apartment buildings south of the Oklahoma State University campus on 4th Avenue that were already under construction when the TIF was created.

The change is designed to address concerns MTC and Payne County representatives had expressed about the apportionment of taxes within the TIF district.

Joyce said the change doesn’t have any impact on what the city can do with the TIF, its timeline or the amount of money it will generate because other large projects are in the process of being developed.

“We wouldn’t be able to do it if not for the interest being shown in the TIF,” Councilor John Wedlake said.

Vice-mayor Pat Darlington said she still thinks the City’s first method of allocating revenue was appropriate but she places a higher value on working together.

Twitter: @mcharlesNP