A zoning issue has put the Pulaski County Sheltered Workshop (PCSW), an organization that provides “meaningful and productive employment for people with physical and mental developmental disabilities,” according to their website, at odds with the Richland Board of Aldermen and is stirring up a bit of a controversy.

The organization recently went to the Richland Board of Aldermen in the hopes of seeking approval of their request about housing and raising chickens on their property. PCSW has been teaching its workers about sustainability and investing in projects aimed at making their workers farmers in the last couple of years.

Lacie Karr, the PCSW General Manager, said, “the reason behind our request was three-fold:

1. For the health of our employees.For the majority of our employees, budgets are fixed and good, healthy food is hard to afford, let alone access. At PCSW, if you care for the chickens, you reap the rewards and eggs would be given freely to our farmers.

2. For the therapeutic benefit to our employees.A significant body of research and data over the past 10 years has quantified and shown the therapeutic, healing benefit of raising and caring for chickens and we seek to maximize these benefits for our farmers.

3. For the happiness of our employees.When discussing ways to grow our farm work here at PCSW, employees specifically requested chickens and many have family already caring for these animals so many have some foundation of knowledge they could apply.”

ATR Lighting Enterprises Inc., the neighbor business to the PCSW, supports the Workshop. Tom Reagan, the President of ATR Lighting, wrote in a letter to Samantha Kramer, the Workshop’s community coordinator, presented to the Board of Aldermen, “we greatly appreciate the work that the Pulaski County Sheltered Workshop does in our community and we want to be as supportive as possible in helping you complete your mission. We have no problem with you partnering with the City to use the vacant lot between our buildings, and no problem with the expansion of your small farming operations. The PCSW has always been a great neighbor in our Industrial Park and we look forward to growing our relationship in the days ahead.”

Not only did the board deny their request, but the board will not allow the organization to speak during the next Board of Alderman meeting, according to Karr. Greg Stratman, Richland city administrator, said, the Board rejected the organization’s request because “we have a zoning issue and when they came to make their presentation, they didn’t address that issue to the satisfaction of the members. Right now the zoning is in an Industrial Park and does not allow the chickens to be raised in the park. The City has a zoning ordinance.  The ordinance lists specifics what is allowed and not allowed. The workshop is located in an area that is zoned industrial. The list of what is allowed can be changed.  There will be an attorney fee (approximately $600) to change the ordinance. Please remember our Board of Alderpersons have chosen not to make changes to the zoning.”

Karr responded to the city’s statement by saying that PCSW would be “willing and ready to speak with the City of Richland Board of Aldermen” about the option of paying the attorney fee to change the ordinance.

However, Karr said she didn’t think a change of the ordinance was necessary because PCSW asked a lawyer to review the city ordinance and learned that an ordinance change wasn’t necessary.

“I would like to add that within the current city ordinance for Industrial Districts Section 400.140 Y, it does state that a feed yard is allowable and according to the Missouri DNR definition of a feed yard, our proposal falls within the permissions given in the zoning ordinance,” Karr said.

The Daily Guide reviewed the city ordinance and the Division of Natural Resources regulations. The city ordinance does allow for a feed yard in the industrial district where PCSW is located. Feed yards are listed as item “y” under permitted uses in the industrial district under the ordinance.

DNR classifies the type of operation PCSW wants to have with their chickens as an animal feeding operation (AFO) and would require the organization to obtain a permit from DNR.

“An AFO is defined as a lot, building, or complex at an operating location where animals are stabled or confined, and fed or maintained for a total of 45 days or more in any 12 month period, and crops, vegetation, forage growth, or post-harvest residues cannot be sustained over at least 50 percent of the animal confinement area within the normal crop growing season,” DNR’s regulation states.

Karr is asking the community of Richland to support PCSW’s request by letting their Aldermen know how they feel. Additionally, the workshop created a video to take their case to the public, which is available to view on the Daily Guide’s website below:

The Daily Guide toured the workshop on Wednesday, July 12, and found various opinions about housing chickens on the property from the individuals who are employees of the Sheltered Workshop and benefit from the program that is meant to help disabled individuals work in a supportive environment.

“It would give people an opportunity to take care of their own chickens and people that can’t live on a farm,” Amy Robinson, a PCSW employee commented.

Linda Whitaker, another employee, said, “They [the Richland Board of Aldermen] are discriminating against handicapped people.”

James Rickerson, a Workshop employee, said, “I think we should have chickens. It gives us a responsibility. Some of us may want to be farmers. You people don’t realize the time we put into this [the workshop] and it’s a benefit to the community because elderly people who cannot get out and get eggs, we can deliver the eggs to them and also supporting everybody else. You people need to understand what it means to the Pulaski County Sheltered Workshop people and to the elderly people.”

Heather Hollingshead, a Workshop employee, said, “The reason I want chickens is because I helped my friend with chickens and then she had a stroke. The chickens got taken away by her neighbor. I want my own chickens to raise. It would give us responsibility and something to do when we are stressed out. The workshop means a lot to me. I really like working here. I like making new friends. I’ve had a lot of support around here through hard times.”

Noelle Reeve, another employee, said, “We need chickens because it saves the environment and helps the wildlife. It also saves us money because we can grow our own eggs. We learn here at the workshop about sustainability which that helps with having chickens too.”

A few Sheltered Workshop employees do not have experience taking care of chickens; however, they are eager to learn. David Rickerson, an employee, said he wants to learn how to take care of chickens. He is mad that the Board rejected their request for housing chickens. Tony Mareel, another employee, has never raised chickens, but he wants to learn how to take care of them.

The employees had a chance to hold chickens that same day. The Workshop employees were thrilled when Kenneth Marshall, the Workshop’s garden volunteer, brought in about five chickens for the employees to hold.

PCSW plans to attend the Richland Board of Aldermen meeting Tuesday, July 18, and invited the residents of Richland to also attend the meeting to show their support. PCSW  hopes that the city will allow them to speak at the meeting to continue the discussion. The Daily Guide will be attending the meeting and will continue to follow this story as it unfolds.