The sky hasn’t fallen on city chickens yet

The popularity of raising chickens as pets and/or a natural food source has increased to an all-time high. Because of this increased interest, several residents are taking yet another stab at getting the City of Cambridge to change its ordinance to allow for the keeping of chickens on properties within city limits. And while the previous two attempts in the past five years both laid an egg, this plan appears to have the best chance of hatching.

During the July 20 city council meeting, the council heard from Diane Schultz, who spoke for those who wanted to be able to keep chickens, along with discussed the pros and cons of multiple options for how to possibly implement allowing for chickens.

Community Development Specialist Carri Levitski told the council that since the last time the council was presented with this request, a number of cities that were surveyed about their own regulations have changed them, with all but five of the 18 cities now allowing chickens under varying conditions. She added the Planning Commission discussed this latest request and was asking the council for direction on whether staff should go forward with creating an ordinance change or other possible action, or if the council didn’t wish to take the topic up altogether.

In her presentation, Schultz told the council the benefits of raising chickens, dispelled some of the cons, plus addressed the previous attempts.

“In 2014 and 2019, I feel that chicken lovers were under-represented in the discussions,” Schultz said, adding this time around, she has started a Facebook group for chicken advocates. “I was wondering if I was the only one who wanted chickens. And within a month, I gained easily 50 members.”

During council discussion, the question of chickens attracting other predatory wildlife was brought up.

“We can’t regulate Mother Nature,” said council member Joe Morin. “I would like to keep the encroachment of the predators out of city limits as much as possible.”

During her presentation, Schultz made the argument that the predatory animals have always been around, so it wouldn’t really be the chickens that attracted them.

Council member Kersten Barfknecht-Conley questioned if the council would be setting some sort of precedent since chickens are defined as farm animals.

“What if someone asks us next week ‘well I want a horse’ or ‘I want a cow.’ Yes, it’s a little bit different, but a farm animal is a farm animal,” she said.

The council also questioned the logistical difficulties of changing the ordinance, especially the enforcement of any regulations attached to the keeping of chickens.

“Staff isn’t for or against the keeping of chickens,” Levitski told the council. “But what department is going to enforce it? Staff is already tasked to the max. Complaints are going to come in, and when they do come in, which department are they going to be distributed to?”

Council member Lisa Iverson offered up that the council should at least give it a try, but if it proved to be too problematic, a future council could repeal the ordinance. That idea, however, introduced another logistical problem where it was advised they also should change their zoning ordinance to only allow chickens in certain zoning districts, and if a future council did repeal the ordinance, that would create a “non-comforming” issue where the city would not be allowed to force current chicken owners to remove them.

Based on that information, Mayor Jim Godfrey presented what turned out to be an agreeable solution for some of their concerns.

“Could we amend our zoning ordinance and make this an IUP (interim use permit),” Godfrey suggested.

Levitski noted that is what the city of Princeton did, and in talking with their staff, they really thought that was the best method. An IUP is more easily enforceable by staff, plus it would have to be renewed every five years. She did admit applying for an IUP is more expensive, with application fees for Cambridge being $275. 

Godfrey added another benefit to the IUP is each application would require advanced notification of neighbors, so they would know ahead of time about the applicants intentions and would be able to speak on the issue.

To top it off, City Attorney Jay Squires noted the application fees could weed out the casual chicken owners - who might be more prone to not adhering to regulations and receiving complaints - from the serious chicken owners.

Ultimately, the council unanimously approved directing staff to write up a draft ordinance that included an IUP for the owning of chickens that could be presented to the Planning Commission, who would then hold a public hearing, before making a recommendation that would come back before the council for a final vote.

Until that Planning Commission meeting, which most likely will be on Sept. 1, the city is offering residents to take an online poll on the issue. The link can be found on their Facebook page at Cambridge City Hall, Minnesota.

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