Hens for Houston believes that the current city ordinance outlawing chickens within a 100 feet of a neighboring home, school, church or business is behind the times. And, as evidenced by a strong showing at City Hall this week, they're well on the way to bringing it up to date.
Native Houstonian and Rice University graduate Claire Krebs founded the grassroots group in January of 2012 and, over the course of the year, has drawn around 600 members to the cause.
As it stands, the current ordinance prevents most inner-Loop residents from keeping a coop in their backyard (look to these maps for reference), a limitation that has galvanized people from all across the city, spanning ethnicity and background and occupation, to work together for the sake of the chickens.
"We tried to make it as easy for BARC as possible."
They've gone about this task in the most pragmatic way possible: First, Krebs explains to CultureMap, they did their research, looking at the laws for other cities, both in Texas and outside of the state, talking to stakeholders and breaking down common myths associated with poultry.
Then Hens for Houston directly approached BARC, the City of Houston's Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care, to verify the requirements against which the city would measure a proposed ordinance.
The bureau was most interested to see how other cities were handling hens and insisted that any changes must address the three most common complaints — smell, noise and animals "running at large." The group's members then tailored a draft ordinance to meet these expectations.
"We tried to make it as easy for BARC as possible," says Krebs, an engineer by trade, who acknowledges that the city has more pressing issues to deal with than backyard chickens.
A proposed draft eliminates a current 100-foot setback required for coops; punishes noise and general unruliness by chickens in the same way that a violation by a cat or dog or would be punished; and recognizes chicken waste as a valuable fertilizer (because it is widely believed to be).
Hens for Houston brought these arguments to the Houston City Council meeting on Tuesday and secured a meeting with BARC within the next two weeks to discuss.
"The next step is making sure that BARC puts forth a proposal that makes sense for those who own chickens and for those who don't," Krebs tells CultureMap. "I think we can find a middle ground for everybody."