Friday, September 18, 2015

TOP STORY>> Lonoke could allow backyard chickens

Leader staff writer

Are chickens coming back to Lonoke? Maybe, but not yet.

The city council voted Monday night to have City Attorney Ginger Stuart draft an ordinance for the council to discuss and vote on at the October meeting.

But the decision was not without concern and disagreement.

Alderman Woody Evans who was adamantly against the idea when it was brought to the council a few months ago had not been swayed by a public meeting where most of the audience was for chickens. “I said no before, and I’m saying no now,” Evans said.

His worry is that bringing in chickens is just the start. “You want chickens, and if we say yes then someone will want ducks, then goats, then pigs. It won’t stop,” he said.

One reason for wanting chickens according to Joanna Dowlearn, whose group Lonokians for Backyard Chickens, is pushing for their return, is that people want to know where their eggs are coming from.

“Then I should be allowed to have goats,” countered Alderman Efrem Jones. “I like to drink goat’s milk. Shouldn’t I know where it’s coming from?”

Alderman Pat Howell said he wasn’t seeing much resistance to the idea but that he certainly wanted an ordinance to stay how far the coup needed to be from a neighbor’s property line. The council told the city attorney that 15 feet should work.

Joanna and Charles Dowlearn, members of Lonokians for Backyard Chickens, ask the city council earlier this summer to consider allowing residents to keep small flocks of chickens within city limits.

The issue was raised in late 2013 and the Leader even wrote an editorial supporting the idea, but efforts fell by the wayside until recently.

The Dowlearns had written a sample ordinance for the city to look at and the city attorney praised it as well written and would use it as a guide for a city ordinance.

Charles Dowlearn said flocks would be restricted to six hens, no roosters and there would be certain requirements for the chicken coop and the locations would be restricted. Reaction to the chicken request was mixed.

The Dowlearns cited raising chickens would be educational, economical, provide for pest control, natural fertilizers and promote a connection to the community’s farming roots

“People want the option to have a natural, healthy, sustainable way to provide for their families,” Joanna Dowlearn told the city council.

In a pamphlet prepared by the Lonokians for Backyard Chickens, the Dowlearns focused on seven benefits: sustainability, fresh eggs, education, waste reduction, pest control, fertilizer and pleasure.

Many Arkansas cities, including Little Rock, already allow backyard chickens.

In other council business:

Local businesswoman Barbara Lucas asked the city to run a sewer line from its treatment pond to the edge of her property at the near I-40 interchange. “I’m asking for the same courtesy that you recently gave the Cunninghams,” she said. The council agreed to earlier this month to extend a sewer to the edge of the Cunningham property which is also at the new interchange.

Lucas said the city needs to grow and without sewer access at the interchange, she is having a hard time bringing in new businesses to the area.

The council agreed that the city engineer needs to look at the potential growth in the area and determine the size pipe needed. “We’ll be happy to have a special meeting once we have more information,” Alderman Pat Howell said.

The dissenting vote on the issue came from Alderman Raymond Hatton who wanted the council to approve a 10-inch pipe now, citing that enough time had been wasted.

Council members also suggested that depending on the size and location of the businesses, Lucas could tie-in to the sewer line at Mallard Golf Course as that is also Lucas property.

Fire Chief Jimmy Wallace reported that his department responded to 36 calls during August. He also said the fire station had been repaired where one of the fire trucks had a “slight incident with the door.” “As often as we go in and out, stuff like that does happen,” he said.

The chief asked the council for $11,400 for the purchase of five turnouts. “That’s the number we need to buy each year to keep our firefighters safe,” the chief explained.

He also asked $1,500 for supplies and incentives for Fire Prevention Week activities at the schools and permission to auction off two old, unreliable trucks. Chief Wallace also asked for about $6,000 to update and remodel the 20-year-old station’s façade. All his requests were approved.

Mike Brown, the community center director told the council that last month’s back-to-school-bash was a success. “We were so packed I was afraid the fire department would clear us all out.” He said the center would be offering a flu clinic and a hunter’s education course in the coming weeks.

The council approved an ordinance granting the “sole and exclusive franchise” to provide solid waste collection and disposal services for the city.

Aldermen also voted two waive competitive bidding on two purchases. The council agreed to spend $129,200 with Joey Smith construction to build an ADA-compliant bathroom facility at the city’s ball park complex after bids continued to come in higher than budgeted construction amounts. Competitive bidding was also waived on the purchase of sewer pond lagoon curtains. The current ones are damaged and have put the city in violation with ADEQ. Environmental Process Systems of Conway will replace the damaged curtains at a cost of $39,375.