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Revised Willmar, Minn.,ordinance prohibits chickens in residential areas

WILLMAR -- Nick Davis grew up raising 100 to 150 chickens on a farm north of Willmar and he felt the City Council would be missing out on an opportunity if a revised ordinance prohibiting backyard chickens in certain residential areas was approved.

Opposition to the ordinance was also expressed in a letter by Amy Haugen who wrote that she and many others would be disappointed and disheartened if the council did not allow raising backyard hens.

Their viewpoints did not prevail, however, as the council voted unanimously Monday to adopt a revised ordinance that prohibits raising backyard chickens in certain residential areas. The ordinance will replace an existing section of municipal code with clearer, more objective language for governing the keeping of animals within the city limits.

The council pursued a change to the animal ordinance to eliminate subjective decision-making and to create clearer standards for keeping animals, said Bruce Peterson, planning and development director, at the start of a public hearing called to consider adopting the ordinance.

City Attorney Robert Scott had said the old ordinance lacked objective standards for issuing animal permits. The revised ordinance was recommended by the Community Development Committee.

Under the revised ordinance, backyard chickens will not be allowed in residential areas zoned for single-family homes and twinhomes. Chickens will be allowed only in areas zoned agricultural or industrial, and no more than 50 chickens can be kept.

Peterson said there are some residences in the industrial park zone that would qualify for a permit to raise chickens. One resident living in an industrial zone near U.S. Highway 12 West has raised chickens for years and would qualify under the revised ordinance.

Peterson said the city has issued six to seven 12-month permits for raising chickens in the restricted zones and those permits will expire.

The ordinance would allow no more than 30 pigeons and no more than six rabbits. Dogs and household cats are regulated elsewhere under other city ordinances.

During the hearing, Davis said the city has a good start with allowing hen chickens in the industrial and agricultural zones. But Davis said he would like to see residential areas also included, and he urged the council to definitely keep rules on it. He did not favor allowing roosters. Compared with other pets in town, chickens are not that bad, he said.

The council acknowledged the 2½-page letter from Haugen, who was unable to attend the hearing. Haugen wrote that she and many others would be disappointed and disheartened if the council bans raising backyard hens. She listed four large cities that allow raising backyard chickens.

"This would really be a step backwards for our growing, diverse community. We are not some beige, cookie-cutter suburbia with a homeowners association to regulate the hue of our shutters. Please don't limit our rights as taxpayers. There are really so many larger issues than this, like the fact that you are raising our property taxes again,'' she wrote.

Council member Bruce DeBlieck said raising chickens in the industrial park zone may be appropriate for residents living in those districts, but he did not support raising chickens in residential areas.

In other business, the council:

- Approved an ordinance prohibiting the illicit connection and discharge of dredged soil, solid waste, garbage, wastewater, paints, detergents, pesticides and other pollutants into the storm water drainage system. The ordinance was required by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to fulfill requirements of the city's storm water pollution prevention plan.

- Approved an ordinance effective Jan. 1, 2013, to repeal the half-cent local option sales tax and $20 motor vehicle excise tax. The seven-year tax is due to expire on Dec. 31, 2012. The tax was approved by voters in 2004, authorized by the Legislature in 2005 and enacted by city ordinance effective Jan. 1, 2006. Revenue was used to pay for various projects. Finance Director Steve Okins said the ordinance will repeal the ordinance that enacted the tax.

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