ASHLAND Two Ashland residents contend an ordinance prohibiting them from having pet chickens is for the birds.

Justin and Chuck Literal want to challenge the ordinance preventing them from having chickens and rabbits in the city. They recently appeared in front of the Ashland Board of Commissioners during a June meeting and voiced concerns with the ordinance that doesn’t allow chickens or rabbits to be considered pets. Since then, an application has been submitted to the department of Community & Economic Development asking the city to change the ordinance, and Justin and Chuck will then go in front of the planning and zoning commission to plead their case.

“If the city’s complaint was ‘there were too many’ or (if the problem) was with the set up, then I was fully willing to change it around for them,” said Justin Litteral. “All I’m asking of the board is to look into making recommendations for permitting.”

The current ordinance states that no animals other than household pets shall be permitted in any zoning district unless specifically permitted, and a household pet is defined as “animals normally and traditionally considered ‘pets.’” These do not include animals kept, raised or bred for commercial purposes. The classification does not include animals normally and traditionally considered farm animals such as horses, poultry and bees.

“All I asked them (the city commission) in that meeting was to make rules,” said Litteral.  “I’m not saying don’t have rules and don’t have restrictions.”

The application Litteral has submitted asks the planning and zoning committee to consider a text amendment to the zoning ordinance that would allow people to keep traditional farm animals with a permit or other conditional reason.

“It all has a purpose,” Economic Development Specialist Katherine Utsinger said of the reasons for the modification of the ordinance. “Zoning is set in place to protect the health, safety and welfare of all of our residents, so it’s not something that can be a quick change.”

The chickens have been kept in Chuck Litteral’s yard since April, and he and Justin were notified they were breaking the ordinance in June. They were given 10 days to remove the animals from the property. Justin then went to city hall and formally announced he wanted to challenge the rule.

Justin Litteral stood up at public participation at the Board of Commissioners meeting on June 27th to request the ordinance be modified.

City attorney Jim Moore said the commissioners couldn’t take any immediate action to allow him to keep his chickens within the city limits because it would violate the law.

“Zoning gets to hear (this first) before the recommendation is made,” Moore said. “This is a requirement of state law.”

The process to deviate from the zoning ordnance requires the person to submit an application at least one month prior to the day they are to go in front of the (planning and zoning committee). Within that month, there has to be a public notice listed in the newspaper, residents must be notified and other city departments would be contacted.

“Any compliant someone could have against my chickens and rabbits could be applied to someone who has cats or dogs,” said Justin. “That’s what makes me so adamant about it. It’s the unfairness of the rule.”

It would then be up to the city departments to decide if there would be any issues that could arise from the application before it goes to the planning commission.

“There is a process that goes into changing an ordinance,” said City Manager Mike Graese. “The planning and zoning committee will make the recommendation to change the ordinance, and then it will go to the mayor and commissioners to vote whether to change or not to change.”

Justin and Chuck will go before the planning and zoning committee and plead their case. The planning and zoning commission will also hear from the public before making any recommendation to go to the city commissioners.

“I think if people in Ashland knew there was a blanket ban, they would be a lot more upset,” said Justin Litteral.

They have been granted permission to keep the animals until the end of August, so they could go in front of the planning and zoning commission.

Chuck Litteral said his animals were very soothing for him, and they helped him more than medication does. He spends most of his day with his animals. The birds don’t ruffle anyone’s feathers.

“I’ve gone to the VA (Department of Veteran Affairs), and they’ve put me on medicine,” said Chuck. “But I come out here in the morning and drink my coffee, and it is so peaceful.”

Justin Litteral said the experience of raising these animals was similar for him. He is a veteran, and the medicine he was given to treat his depression made him like a zombie. His animals helped him.

“This is almost like meditation,” said Justin.

The next meeting for the planning and zoning commission will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 20 at 2 p.m.