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Standards proposed for residents looking to raise chickens, pigeons, rabbits within city

WILLMAR -- Standards are being proposed for Willmar residents who want to raise chickens, pigeons and rabbits on their property.

The proposed standards describe the location, shelter, care, treatment, and number and type of chickens, pigeons and rabbits allowed with minimum square footage of each.

The City Council, which in the past has approved permits for chickens on a case-by-case basis, directed city staff to write standards to make the process, rules and housing of chickens, as well as pigeons and rabbits, more uniform.

The standards are part of a proposed animal ordinance that would repeal and replace the current ordinance. The proposed ordinance allows animals such as fish, reptiles, exotic birds, rats, mice, hedge hogs, guinea pigs and hamsters as long as certain restrictions are met, for example containing the animals to the owner's or caretaker's residence.

The proposed ordinance does not pertain to household dogs and cats; those are regulated under other city ordinances.

The intent of the proposed ordinance "recognizes the need to balance the desire of persons to introduce, harbor, own, keep, care for, feed, or shelter an animal within the city limits against the general safety, health, peace and repose'' of the general population.

The ordinance was presented to the City Council's Community Development Committee last week and the panel voted to recommend the council introduce the ordinance on Monday for a hearing Aug. 20.

Bruce Peterson, director of planning and development services, said the ordinance will be posted on the city's website after the ordinance is introduced. He said the ordinance, written by City Attorney Robert Scott, is easy to read and understand.

The ordinance states that chickens, pigeons and rabbits may only be kept in areas zoned R-1 (single-family), R-2 (single-family and duplexes), agricultural or industrial. Animals must be kept outside the family dwelling.

All shelters or attached fenced enclosures must have a minimum setback of 10 feet from the rear property line and 10 feet from the side property line. No structure or fenced animal yard shall be closer than 25 feet to any residential dwelling on the adjacent lots and no structures or fenced animals yards will be allowed in the front yard of a residence.

The ordinance does not allow roosters. It sets a limit of 10 chickens in R-1 or R-2 zones, 50 chickens in agricultural or industrial zones, and sets space requirements by weight.

The ordinance limits the number of pigeons to 60, limits the number of rabbits to 10, and sets minimum space requirements for both.

Committee Chairman Jim Dokken said people who have called him have expressed concerns about the number of animals allowed. He asked how people can make their concerns known to staff.

Peterson said the best place to voice those concerns is at the public hearing. He said staff had to bring something to the public and this was the recommendation. If the public reacts negatively, the council can change it, he said.

Committee member Ron Christianson said he supported the ordinance. "This is a freedom issue. People in some cities are raising chickens for eggs. I think it's a good ordinance,'' he said.

Committee member Steve Ahmann raised a concern about possible animal waste runoff entering the city storm sewer. Ahmann said he agreed with the philosophy of having a few pigeons but thought 60 seemed like a lot of pigeons.

Peterson said the backyard structures would be far enough away from the storm sewer to not be a problem. "The location requirements are such that it makes it almost impossible for any of this material to wash off site,'' he said.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150