When David and Evelyn Gilham moved into their Elizabeth Street home in Canal Winchester last fall, they were unaware of a city ordinance that was amended last April to prohibit residents from raising chickens, goats, pigs, bees and other agricultural animals on property of less than half an acre.
However, their home sits on 0.38 acre and in September, they became the first residents to seek a variance from the provisions of the amended ordinance.
"This is not like we just ran out and bought chickens," David Gilham said during a Sept. 4 public hearing before Canal Winchester City Council. "We've had them for years. We get them from responsible hatcheries that ensure that they've had all their shots and antibiotics and they are salmonella-free when they are purchased. ... Like I said, this was kind of 'oops, we did not see this.' I didn't know we weren't allowed to have them."
The city's planning and zoning commission rejected the request and City Council upheld the commission's decision by a 4-3 vote Sept. 17.
Council President Bruce Jarvis, Vice President Mike Walker, Bob Clark and Mike Coolman voted to deny the Gilhams' appeal, and Patrick Lynch, Jill Amos and Will Bennett supported it.
"It wasn't an easy vote," Clark said. "But you have to take the whole thing into consideration and the issues that come along with having a farm animal like this."
The city learned of the chickens in June, when two neighbors complained that the coops were noisy and attracted nuisance animals such as raccoons.
However, the Gilhams indicated they had "a couple letters, and we had quite a few neighbors that signed in favor of us having chickens."
"This was all started over us having the fence put in, which was originally put in for our dogs," David Gilham said during the Sept. 4 public hearing. "Everybody was fine with them. The neighbors were at our Memorial Day party with the chickens before the fence went up. The second it started going up was when we got the complaint for this."
Jerry Staufer, who lives next to the Gilhams, told the planning and zoning commission during a July 9 public hearing that there are known issues with chickens, including noise, smell, rodents and a reduction in property values.
"This instance is causing all of them, not to mention salmonella," he said.
Planning and zoning commission secretary Joe Donahue indicated it was difficult to find a balance "in the middle of what does and does not make sense."
"It seems like the property owners are fairly reasonable and experienced, but this is a situation where someone is asking for forgiveness after the fact," Donahue said during the July 9 meeting. "This is a recently adopted ordinance that has had lots of discussion over the last several months."
Donahue and commission Vice Chairman Michael Vasko voted in favor of granting the Gilhams a variance and Chairman Bill Christensen, June Konold, Joe Wildenthaler and Mark Caulk voted against. Brad Richey did not attend the meeting.
Christensen described the commission's rationale for turning down the variance request during the Sept. 4 public hearing.
"We had two citizens who talked against it, and you heard what they said," Christensen said. "Basically, that has a lot to do with our decision. The other thing is, this is the first variance asked of us with a fairly new ordinance, and we sort of wanted to see what tolerance people have on it, too."