Urban chickens get the axe in Brooklyn Park

chickenAn ordinance to allow and regulate the keeping of chickens in Brooklyn Park died on second reading Jan. 7, and keeping chickens will remain illegal.

A motion by Councilmember Bob Mata to approve the ordinance allowing chickens failed in a 2-4 vote. Council members Bob Mata and Elizabeth Knight voted in favor of the proposed ordinance. Council members Peter Crema, Rich Gates, John Jordan and Mike Trepanier voted against it. Mayor Jeffrey Lunde was absent due to health concerns.

More than a year has passed since the topic of urban chickens came up in response to requests by residents who wished to keep poultry.

The planning commission discussed the topic in January and March of 2012, and the city council talked about it in December 2011, January 2012, June 2012 and December, 2012.

In June the council directed staff to “further review and gather public input on ordinances pertaining to keeping chickens in residential areas.” Last month the council approved a first reading of a proposed ordinance in a 4-3 vote.

Since that vote, Jordan replaced Dean Heng as a West District council member. Heng had voted in favor of the ordinance. Mayor Jeffrey Lunde also voted in favor of the first reading, but indicated he was still unsure of his decision. Following the Jan. 7 meeting, Lunde stated publicly that he would have voted “no” on the second reading had he been present.

If adopted, the ordinance would have allowed residents to keep a maximum of five hens. It would have prohibited keeping roosters or slaughtering chickens in the city and would have required chickens to be secured in a coop from sunset to sunrise.

The ordinance would also have regulated the size and locations of chicken coops and runs. All coops and runs would have needed to be at least 25 feet from adjacent residences. A “sunset clause” included in the ordinance would have caused it automatically to come back for council review in three years.

Brooklyn Park is not the only city to consider allowing urban chickens. Several cities in the region already permit them, including Anoka, Bloomington, Burnsville, Fridley, Maplewood, Osseo, Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Three Brooklyn Park residents spoke against urban chickens at the Jan. 7 meeting, citing concerns such as noise, mess and cost of staff responding to complaints.

One resident, Rex Hale, spoke in favor of allowing poultry. Hale, who has spoken at previous meetings, addressed many of the objections to chickens, saying the proposed ordinance included provisions to mitigate the concerns.

Councilmember Trepanier suggested modifying the ordinance to allow a maximum of three chickens, but his motion failed to attract a seconder. According to staff research, a flock of chickens should include a minimum of three birds.

Mata said he has seen the benefits of urban chickens first hand. His son, who lives in Colorado Springs has 11 chickens.

“It’s actually created a greater sense of camaraderie in the neighborhood having those chickens,” he said.

Knight said she could see both sides of the argument and didn’t feel strongly about it herself. But she pointed out that city staff already deal with complaints about chickens, and she thought it beneficial to have something concrete on the books for them to consider. She also mentioned there can be problems with other pets, such as dogs, but the city allows those.

From the beginning Gates opposed the idea of chickens because he feared it would create a greater burden for code enforcement. Crema stated at the previous meeting that he agreed with Gates.

Jordan, who was not on the council for other discussions, also agreed with Gates’ concerns.

“I don’t fear chickens,” he said. “I like chickens. I like fresh eggs.”

Nevertheless, he said, people would break the ordinance, and he expected that would add to code enforcement’s workload. He referred to discussions at recent meetings at which the council discussed the difficulties the code enforcement staff already has trying to keep up with demand.

Jordan also mentioned recent problems with coyotes in the city, saying it would only worsen those problems.

“The bottom line is, (chickens) don’t belong here,” he said.

The failure of the proposed ordinance means city code will not change, and keeping chickens will remain illegal. The ordinance will continue to be enforced on a complaint-driven basis.

Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]