Chickens in the city
- Councilor pushes for backyard chickens
By Jeff Bollier . of the Northwestern . September 1, 2010 http://www.thenorthwestern.com/article/20100901/OSH0101/9010410/1987/NLETTER0601?source=nletter-news
Oshkosh could be the next community to decide whether it gives a cluck about backyard chickens.
In cities like Neenah, Madison and Stoughton, city councils have approved ordinances that allow residents to keep a small number of chickens in backyard coops to produce eggs.
Now, Oshkosh Common Councilor Tony Palmeri believes an Oshkosh ordinance can be patterned after those of other cities that gained acceptability by prohibiting roosters and slaughtering of chickens in the city. Some communities also require would-be chicken owners to secure permission from at least 50 percent of adjacent neighbors.
Palmeri said he wants the city's Sustainability Advisory Board and Board of Health to carefully study the issue and offer plenty of opportunity for public input before any recommendation comes back to the council.
"With the local food movement going on all around the country and as we hear of massive recalls of contaminated eggs, this makes even more sense," Palmeri said. "It seems to work out in places like Madison. But my feeling has been that in cities where it does pass, city officials are careful to study it and make sure there's lots of public input then craft an ordinance that's acceptable to neighborhood residents."
The issue has already gained some traction since councilors Jessica King and Bob Poeschl and Mayor Paul Esslinger expressed an interest in exploring the issue. But Councilor Steve Cummings said Palmeri's idea of crafting an acceptable ordinance is easier said than done.
Cummings has health, noise and cleanliness concerns about allowing residents to raise chickens in the city. He called the issue "trendy" and pointed out it would legalize an activity some city residents already undertake in violation of ordinances that ban livestock within the city limits.
Cummings also wondered whether city employees would have the time to inspect coops, ensure enclosures are properly set up and enforce the parameters of the proposed law.
"Do we really have the time to spend taxpayer dollars on something like this?" Cummings asked. "With budgets being what they are, if there are complaints about chickens, someone has to respond. And I don't think we have the resources for that work."
Madison and Dane County Animal Service Lead Worker Patrick Comfert, who reviews applications to keep chickens in the state's capitol said there have been few complaints since the city lifted its ban on chickens in 2004.
"We have not, we do not get complaints about the backyard chickens," Comfert said. "I think we've had two calls total and they were more wondering if people were allowed to keep chickens. It seems to enhance communities in which it happens. It puts people in their back yards talking with neighbors about chickens, sharing eggs."
Not every community has crossed the road to supporting backyard chickens, though. Caledonia, Eau Claire and River Falls are among those that have voted down backyard chicken ordinances. The cities of La Crosse, Marshfield and Racine continue to study the issue.
"I expect as this gets discussed more seriously, we will see strong emotions develop on both sides," Palmeri said. "My goal is that by the time it comes to the council, much of the debate was held at the committee level."
Comfert said Madison's decision six years ago to allow limited numbers of urban chickens has met with success partly because an underground chicken-keeping network, now called Mad City Chickens, rolled out educational videos, workshops on how to build coops and other programs.
"They do chicken classes. They teach coop building 101," said Comfert, who also keeps chickens at home. "They really took the chicken by the wattles and they're making an effort to keep things nice and clean."
Cummings suggested a much easier way for people concerned about where food comes from to get eggs.
"It doesn't take much to go out into the country and find a sign that says 'Fresh Eggs,'" he said. "We should patronize the people trying to make a living raising chickens in the country."
- Jeff Bollier: (920) 426-6688 or jbollier@....
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