VADNAIS HEIGHTS — The City Council discussed changes to a potential chicken ordinance at a meeting Jan. 18.
People and wild turkeys showed up at City Hall to continue a long-running discussion on the issue.
“When I drove into the parking lot this evening there were 16 turkeys who were around my car,” said Councilman Craig Johnson. “I didn't know if they were here to support the amendment or if they were a turkey lobby to be against it.”
The proposed ordinance, tabled at a December meeting, was ultimately directed to be changed. The minimum 1-acre lot size was changed to half an acre. Also, residents with lots under half an acre would be able to have chickens pending neighbor approval, if the proposed ordinance passes at a future meeting.
Residents with lots under half an acre would have to receive 80 percent of their neighbors' approval, including corner lot neighbors, according to the proposed ordinance.
The proposed chicken ordinance originally came before a slightly different council — former Mayor Marc Johannsen had supported the 1-acre minimum and former Councilman Jerry Auge did not support the chicken ordinance. The ordinance was tabled until the New Year at the suggestion of Councilman Craig Johnson.
At that meeting, several residents had expressed the desire to have chickens on lots smaller than 1 acre and one resident even confessed to currently having chickens on a small lot.
Farm animal or suburban pet?
Two more residents spoke at the Jan. 18 public hearing.
One resident at the meeting, Martin Jokinen, said he did not want chickens in Vadnais Heights because he grew up in a semirural area in northern Minnesota and was a small-town city manager in a rural area. He dealt with regulating alpacas, llamas, dairy goats and chickens. He expressed concern at regulating chickens and the possibility of attracting predators.
“I moved here to be in a suburban, not farm, area,” he said. “I just do not believe chickens should be allowed in a residential area. … I don't want to be in the chicken hoteling business here in Vadnais Heights.”
Mayor Bob Fletcher noted that most of the suburban cities around Vadnais Heights do allow chickens.
“This is the most restrictive ordinance in the area,” he said. “It is a very stringent ordinance.” He said the setbacks were large and the council was even considering neighbor approval.
“I am not concerned about setbacks; I am concerned about smell backs,” Jokinen said.
“They can't just allow the thing to just turn into a chicken coop smell factory,” Fletcher said. “We are not going to let them do that.”
Fletcher didn't think a bunch of residents who currently don't have chickens would get them just because there would now be an official ordinance.
“There really haven't been any chicken problems in Vadnais Heights and I don't anticipate we are going to have a great growth, because most people assumed they could have chickens before this approval,” Fletcher said.
Current chicken owner Steve Becker, who lives on a quarter-acre lot, said he would like to keep his two chickens.
“The people who are talking about chickens don't know that much about chickens in the fact that for us they are pets,” Becker said. He said dogs leave more of a mess and are louder than chickens.
“There is really nothing wrong with chickens,” he noted. “All chickens do is walk around and fertilize the lawn a little bit, which you can never smell.”
Becker said he and his wife moved to the Vadnais Heights area from Iowa because they drove around and saw chickens.
“We got excited and we said, 'This is the kind of community we want to move into,'” Becker remembered. “If we have to get rid of them, that is fine but it would be sad.” One of his chickens died in a cold spell since the last meeting, when his wife Donna spoke about their three chickens.
Moving forward with chicken potential for 2,600 homes
Councilman Craig Johnson noted the Beckers' chickens didn't bite him when he visited during campaigning, but he has had issues with dogs while campaigning.
“After thinking about it, the 1-acre lots size didn't make sense to me,” Johnson said.
Johnson proposed reducing the 1-acre limitation for chickens.
“This would provide the ability for people with standard city lots to provide five chickens at most,” he said. “I would be happy to add neighbor approval for smaller, standard lot sizes.”
Fletcher said he would prefer neighbor approval.
New Councilwoman Heidi Gunderson, who noted she was “late to the chicken party” but has done a lot of research, said she thought the 1-acre restriction was “pretty restrictive.”
“I am in favor of decreasing the size and also in favor of coming up with a certain lot size that is going to require neighbor approval,” she said.
Councilman Terry Nyblom has consistently supported property owners being able to have chickens.
The council together came up the idea to allow lots half an acre and up to have chickens, and lots under half an acre to be allowed chickens with 80 percent of neighbor approval.
According to documents released at the meeting, that would mean about 570 properties would be allowed chickens without neighbor approval and about 2,050 properties would be allowed chickens with neighbor approval.
The ordinance would allow five chickens in certain residential districts on half-acre properties and five chickens for each additional acre of land on properties 2 acres and over. The maximum number of chickens allowed would be 20.
Setbacks for coops would be 50 feet from adjacent dwellings instead of 30 feet, and 20 feet from yard lines instead of 5 feet from side yard lines and 10 feet from rear yard lines.
The license would belong to the property owner and could not be transferred to a new owner, said Nolan Wall, planning and community development director.
The council voted to continue the public hearing on the potential chicken ordinance until its next meeting.
Sara Marie Moore can be reached at 651-407-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.