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Willmar, Minn.'s, chicken ordinance on way back for more review

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WILLMAR -- The prospect of backyard chickens in town apparently doesn't have Willmar residents crowing with enthusiasm.

As a result of all the negative feedback they have received, members of the Willmar City Council decided Monday to send a proposed animal ordinance back to the committee level for more discussion.

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Councilman Steve Ahmann said he has not heard from anyone who is in favor of the ordinance, which would set standards for allowing people to raise chickens, rabbits and pigeons within the city limits.

The nuisance-factor potential makes it something that is unlikely "to enhance the community," he said.

"I don't think it's a good idea," Ahmann told the council.

The increasing popularity of grow-your-own has propelled backyard fowl into an issue many cities across the United States are beginning to confront.

For local governments, it comes down to balancing individual rights against the community at large in the form of regulatory decisions. How many chickens should someone be allowed to raise? What constitutes a suitable shelter? What about the impact on neighbors?

Until now, Willmar has allowed a handful of permits, but only on a case-by-case basis. Three requests this year to raise chickens -- two were granted for one year and one was turned down -- prompted city officials to revisit the existing ordinance and propose replacing it with new standards that are more uniform.

The goal was to establish some criteria, said Charlene Stevens, city administrator. She said city staff reviewed a number of ordinances from other cities as they rewrote Willmar's ordinance.

Among the provisions of the proposed ordinance:

n Chickens, rabbits and pigeons can be kept only in neighborhoods zoned R-1, or single-family residential; R-2, or single-family homes and duplexes; agricultural; or industrial.

n The animals must be kept outside the dwelling and may not be housed in the front yard.

n Shelters and fenced enclosures must be at least 10 feet back from the property line and at least 25 feet away from homes on adjoining property.

n The limit is 10 chickens in R-1 and R-2 zones and 50 in agricultural and industrial zones. No roosters are allowed.

n The limit for pigeons is 60. For rabbits, it's 10.

The City Council was prepared Monday to set a public hearing on the ordinance for Aug. 20, followed by a vote on whether to adopt it. Now that the proposed ordinance has gone back to the drawing board, any or all of the provisions could be tweaked or changed before it returns to the full council.

The city does need to have clear standards, said Councilman Ron Christianson. "Up to now we've been dealing with this on an as-coming-to-us basis."

For most of the council members, though, the feedback they are hearing from constituents has been overwhelmingly against backyard chickens, rabbits and pigeons.

Ahmann worried that the setback requirements will not be enough to protect the neighbors. He raised questions about the number of pigeons allowed and what might happen if an owner stops taking care of the birds. "What do they do with the pigeons? They let them go," he said.

Monitoring backyard flocks and keeping complaints to a minimum also will take resources, Ahmann said. "It's going to require more enforcement and more staff time."

Ahmann said he "could be convinced" to support the ordinance but wanted to see some of the provisions scaled back. In the ordinance's present form, "I don't think I'd vote for this," he said.

WILLMAR -- The prospect of backyard chickens in town apparently doesn't have Willmar residents crowing with enthusiasm.

As a result of all the negative feedback they have received, members of the Willmar City Council decided Monday to send a proposed animal ordinance back to the committee level for more discussion.

Councilman Steve Ahmann said he has not heard from anyone who is in favor of the ordinance, which would set standards for allowing people to raise chickens, rabbits and pigeons within the city limits.

The nuisance-factor potential makes it something that is unlikely "to enhance the community," he said.

"I don't think it's a good idea," Ahmann told the council.

The increasing popularity of grow-your-own has propelled backyard fowl into an issue many cities across the United States are beginning to confront.

For local governments, it comes down to balancing individual rights against the community at large in the form of regulatory decisions. How many chickens should someone be allowed to raise? What constitutes a suitable shelter? What about the impact on neighbors?

Until now, Willmar has allowed a handful of permits, but only on a case-by-case basis. Three requests this year to raise chickens -- two were granted for one year and one was turned down -- prompted city officials to revisit the existing ordinance and propose replacing it with new standards that are more uniform.

The goal was to establish some criteria, said Charlene Stevens, city administrator. She said city staff reviewed a number of ordinances from other cities as they rewrote Willmar's ordinance.

Among the provisions of the proposed ordinance:

- Chickens, rabbits and pigeons can be kept only in neighborhoods zoned R-1, or single-family residential; R-2, or single-family homes and duplexes; agricultural; or industrial.

- The animals must be kept outside the dwelling and may not be housed in the front yard.

- Shelters and fenced enclosures must be at least 10 feet back from the property line and at least 25 feet away from homes on adjoining property.

- The limit is 10 chickens in R-1 and R-2 zones and 50 in agricultural and industrial zones. No roosters are allowed.

- The limit for pigeons is 60. For rabbits, it's 10.

The City Council was prepared Monday to set a public hearing on the ordinance for Aug. 20, followed by a vote on whether to adopt it. Now that the proposed ordinance has gone back to the drawing board, any or all of the provisions could be tweaked or changed before it returns to the full council.

The city does need to have clear standards, said Councilman Ron Christianson. "Up to now we've been dealing with this on an as-coming-to-us basis."

For most of the council members, though, the feedback they are hearing from constituents has been overwhelmingly against backyard chickens, rabbits and pigeons.

Ahmann worried that the setback requirements will not be enough to protect the neighbors. He raised questions about the number of pigeons allowed and what might happen if an owner stops taking care of the birds. "What do they do with the pigeons? They let them go," he said.

Monitoring backyard flocks and keeping complaints to a minimum also will take resources, Ahmann said. "It's going to require more enforcement and more staff time."

Ahmann said he "could be convinced" to support the ordinance but wanted to see some of the provisions scaled back. In the ordinance's present form, "I don't think I'd vote for this," he said.

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Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at http://healthbeat.areavoices.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

(320) 235-1150
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