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Pecking Order: City to Research Chicken Ordinance Despite Council Opposition

Despite several aldermen clearly opposing an ordinance that would allow chickens inside city limits, City Administrator Mark Grams is researching the topic to see whether it would be a viable concept.

Amisdt sarcastic bird puns and a clear group of aldermen opposing the idea of backyard chickens, several city officials on Tuesday night spoke up in favor of researching the issue before making a decision against allowing poultry in Port Washington.

A resident reached out to Ald. Joe Dean, asking that the issue of urban chicken keeping be discussed in Port Washington — sparking the council's discussion on the topic during it's Tuesday night meeting.

"Although I have lots of concerns about having chickens in the city, I also had lots of concerns about bees," Ald. Mike Erhlich said, referring to a debate just more than a year ago about urban beekeeping in Port Washington that — despite extreme initial opposition — ultimately resulted in an ordinance allowing honey bees inside city limits.

City Administrator Mark Grams said the council has discussed this issue in the past, "but the majority did not want to pursue it." That continued to be the case on Tuesday night.

Dean was worried the research would be a waste of city officials' time, pointing to the council's apparent opposition to the issue and the "no" votes that would likely follow any prepared ordinances allowing chickens.

But, as Erhlich pointed out, he was against the bees until learning more — and then he voted yes.

"I think it's something we should at least find out what neighboring communities do regarding chickens," Ald. Doug Biggs said. "I think it would be unfortunate for us to ignore the constituent's request entirely."

Chickens living in the city

Urban chicken keeping has become a growing trend in municipalities across the country.

In Wauwatosa, city officials on Tuesday approved a 1-year trial chicken ordinance, allowing up to four chickens per household. If the ordinance proves troublesome, the city could rescind the law in a year.

A Wauwatosa alderman pointed to a number of large cities across the country that allow urban chicken keeping, among them Milwaukee, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and even New York City.

There are some places that have discussed the issue, then voted against it: Janesville and Caledonia, among them, according to The Journal Times. In Fox Point, a discussion about chickens lasted four months and cost the village about $5,000 in attorney’s fees before the ordinance was shot down in February 2012.

But other urban places in Wisconsin, such as Madison and Green Bay — already have ordinances allowing the birds. In these communities, four hens are allowed per household and no roosters.

In Ozaukee County, Fredonia passed an ordinance over the summer allowing chickens. Mequon allows chickens if a homeowner has 10 acres of property, city officials said. The city had received a request to reduce that to 3/4-acre properties, but the idea died at a committee level.

Belgium nor Saukville allow chickens inside the village, and Saukville Village Administrator Dawn Wagner added that the village has not received any requests to research the idea or add such an ordinance. Cedarburg only allows chickens in areas zoned for agricultural use, and that includes only one property inside city limits, officials said.

A call left for Grafton requesting information about its ordinances were not immediately returned.

City Attorney Eric Eberhardt told the council on Tuesday night that current ordinances do allow for chickens and livestock on city land that is agricultural zoning, similar to Mequon. Ordinances also allow residents to keep animals only as "domesticated pets."

City Planner Randy Tetzlaff said the agricultural zone in Port is mostly the VK lands, which might include four or five residences.

Support for urban chicken keeping emerges

A Patch poll on Tuesday morning before the council meeting asked residents whether they'd support urban chicken keeping.

Put simply, Sean Henninger on Facebook wrote, "Let's do this."

Resident Mary Boyle said the idea of backyard chickens is something she was already intrested in, and she's glad it was brought up.

"If this resident didn't ask, I would have, eventually," she wrote on the Patch article. "I am very interested (I've already gone through 9 eggs just this morning!). People want to know what's going into their food, so backyard chickens are making a huge comeback."

But others felt people interested in raising chickens should have choose the space more suited to that lifestyle: the country.

"Isn't this one if the reasons people either choose country or city living?," Angie Lemke Jentges wrote on Facebook. "Maybe a cow and a pig should be acceptable too, then. Line seems clear to me, it's called the city limits."

But others were quick to point out that they are settled in their location, and raising chickens within the city can be done responsibly.

"If people enjoy taking care of chickens, good for them!," Macey Bonner wrote on Facebook. "They don't make noise and they provide fresh eggs to the family. It would be crazy not to allow this when some people have annoying barking dogs. Also, some people enjoy their current home, in the city. Why be forced to move for your hobby? If I want to raise chickens or bees someday, I'd like to think our community is open minded enough to accept this and not put petty laws into place."

Port resident Howard Hinterthuer acknowledged potential problems associated with raising chickens — having done so himself — but said it's a concept he'd expect would catch on.

"Expect a period of adjustment while people become accustomed to having chickens in the neighborhood," he wrote on the article. "There may be some push-back at first, but eventually, with rare exceptions, the citizens of Port Washington will wonder why we didn't do it sooner. Chickens are a hoot!"

Terry February 12, 2013 at 10:11 AM
Mark me down as opposed. I grew up in rural Wisconsin. I know of chickens, and they are best deployed in cities broasted with a side of mashed potatoes. I do not want them in my neighborhood. If I wanted that, I would still be living in the country. Reply
Tim Schwister February 12, 2013 at 08:41 PM
I am all for this, having grown up on a small farm. We had 5 acres and about 20 chickens. I am not suggesting that people have 20 chickens inside of the city. Four or 5, as stated, will suffice for most families and it isn't as if we are taking property rights from landlords. They are still free to say no to tenants owning chickens. Chickens are easy to take care of, cheap to maintain, territorial (which means they won't wander far from their roosts), and provide better eggs than you can buy. Aside from that, they rid yards of pesky insects. The only thing people need to take care of them is a roost, some cheap food, water, and a little time - and they can be an excellent tool to teach children the basics of animal husbandry.
Greg February 12, 2013 at 09:35 PM
Will a Chicken License be required? 11.02.120, dogs and cats are required to be licensed. I never understood that, since my dog can't drive.
Terry February 12, 2013 at 09:47 PM
And yet the city ordinances will not allow more than two cats or dogs. Why should chickens be allowed more? Instead of owning a lawn mower, if I would prefer a goat, is that next? I don't want them next door, and I expect our city fathers to keep it that way.
Tim Schwister February 12, 2013 at 10:44 PM
Terry, I have no problem with you having a pygmy goat. I'm not being sarcastic, but I suspect you are. Also, the city fathers died decades ago.

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