Through their silence, Port Washington aldermen declined to draft an ordinance to allow chickens to be raised in residential areas during Tuesday night's Common Council meeting.
The Port Washington Common Council heard from a number of residents in support of backyard chickens during the public comment section of the meeting, but many aldermen cited "overwhelming" phone calls against the idea in its final decision not to move forward.
"Overwhelmingly, the people (who contacted me from my district) have been against this," Ald. Dan Becker said.
In the end, officials did not make a motion to give City Attorney Eric Eberhardt the go-ahead to research and construct an ordinance for the city; with no motion at all, the city will discontinue its ongoing discussions about the issue.
Ald. Doug Biggs and Ald. David Larson also spoke openly against the idea, with Biggs pointing to the fact that current ordinance actually does allow chickens in agricultural districts. Ald. Mike Ehrlich said the majority of phone calls he received were against having urban chickens, though he did suggest an ordinance with a good amount of structure would be acceptable.
"I do have lots of concerns about it," Ehrlich said. "I think if we would move forward with an ordinance, I would be very much opposed to having chickens in very dense neighborhoods — and it would be very large lot sizes that I would support."
Ald. Paul Neumyer echoed his thoughts about using the law as a way to provide solid guidance.
"I think it's like the bees, we were really torn with that," he said. "I think it can be done, but it has to be structured to meet our needs."
Urban chickens' popularity growing
Charlotte Little, a local veterinarian who practiced in the city for 26 years, told the Common Council that many people in her field have been seeking information about chicken care as the popularity of raising chickens is growing in residential areas.
"This is something that is becoming very interesting to me, and very popular," she said. "The keeping of chickens in the city supports a sustainable food system."
Little offered herself and the connections she's made through learning more about the issue as a resource, if the city were to pursue an ordinance.
Resident Mary Boyle also supported the idea of backyard chickens, and pointed to the fact that there are more than 150 cities in the United States that already have such an ordinance.
"It's not unusual, and it would be nice to see Port be on top of things," she said.
The trend of this happening in other communities is something that 11-year-old resident Joshua Bolton — who suggested the idea with his sister to the council in the first place, according to an Ozaukee Press article — told the council was just one of six reasons they should move forward with an ordinance.
"A lot of other cities are realizing the values of allow (chickens)," he said. Other reasons for allowing chickens, he said, include: they are great for the environment; it provides a great life for the chickens; it is much healthier to eat urban-raised eggs than those bought in the store; it teaches kids where food comes from; and they are easier to take care of and "less smelly" than cats and dogs.
Noise, mess main concerns
Becker brought up an issue about a resident in Port who had illegally housed a chicken that he said had caused early morning noise complaints as well as problems with rats on burrowing in the coop.
"Obviously the city had the individual take it down, because it was an illegal coop," he said, "(but those complaints) disturbed me."
Other aldermen also said they were worried and had heard concerns revolving around the noise chickens make, but Little pointed out that the noise a chicken makes is a lot less than that of a late-night barking dog, for example.
Larson said his parents have a large chicken coop at their home in the Plymouth area, and while they do a lot of work to keep it clean, it's a pretty messy thing and, he said, the birds are noisy.
"They're not making the noise that roosters make, (but) they make a lot of noise (when laying eggs)," he said, adding that his parents laughed at the idea of moving the chicken-raising practice to an urban setting.
Resident Jolene Patterson came to the meeting in support of urban chicken keeping, pointing out that her residence is already equipped with a chicken coop from the days when it was allowed in the city.
While the city will no longer actively discuss the issue, the suggestion was made that a resident with a drafted ordinance to allow chickens in residential areas — which would avoid the costs of paying the city attorney to do so for something that is highly opposed — would allow the council to take a second look.