NEW ULM - Residents packed the City Council meeting on Tuesday anxious to learn its decision on allowing chickens within the city limits.
The Council made no official decision, but members approved a subcommittee whose task is to consider potential regulations on raising chickens.
The subcommittee was suggested in response to a request from residents to amend the City ordinance to allow residents or property owners to raise/maintain chickens. Tony Guggisberg led the chicken advocates, which have organized as the Happy Hen Committee. Guggisberg and 15 fellow residents provided their names and addresses on the request.
The request included a list of benefits of allowing chickens within city limits as well as some potential regulations. The Happy Hen Committee suggested that in the event chickens were allowed, the birds should be kept in coops or behind fences, the maximum number of hens should be limited to six. Roosters would be excluded, and chicken feed should be kept in rodent-proof containers.
City Manager Brian Gramentz explained that many cities in Minnesota were beginning to change ordinances to allow the raising of chickens. Mankato recently ended a two-year trial period to allow chickens, but in two years no one applied for a permit. The Mankato ordinance included many restrictions that discouraged raising chickens, Gramentz said.
Councilor Les Schultz had been previously approached by the Happy Hen Committee. Schultz researched several issues regarding chickens in cities. Several metro communities permit chickens, he said.
Schultz prepared a list of pros and cons of city chickens. On the pro side Schultz cited the benefit of fresh eggs, hens tend to be quiet, chickens create significantly less waste than dogs, and no documented case existed of property values going down because of chickens. On the con side Schultz pointed out that the coops did need to be cleaned on regular basis and problems could occur if an unleashed dog attacked a group of chickens.
Guggisberg added to Schultz's list of benefits, saying chickens "are good for the environment." Guggisberg said that not only do chickens eat harmful insects like ticks, but they also will eat any leftover human food, which would further limit waste. Guggisberg compared chickens to dogs, saying chickens are a fourth the cost of canines, are less noisy, and the risk of being injured by a bite is lower. "Some people have dog kennels, some have rabbit hutches, I think it would be great to have chicken coops," he said.
Councilor Ruth Ann Webster asked if the Humane Society had been contacted on this issue.
Guggisberg replied that because the current ordinance did not allow chickens the Humane Society has not taken in any chickens, but it had been contacted by individuals willing to adopt any rescue chickens.
Most of the residents attending the meeting favored allowing chickens, and several acknowledged their plans to raise the birds.
Vince Sloot said that New Ulm had an agricultural background and was still very connected to it. Sloot felt that if larger metropolitan areas are able to manage chickens, a smaller community like New Ulm should be able to do it too.
Not all the responses to the chicken amendment were positive.
Councilor Ken RockVam said that with the exception of a call from Guggisberg, all phone calls he had received from the public were against allowing chickens. RockVam said many people in his ward believe chickens should be limited to ag districts, adding that people buy houses in neighborhoods to be near neighbors - not chickens.
Resident Dennis Born also spoke out against changing the ordinance saying it was in place for a reason and the potential noise generated by the birds was unwanted. "Barking dogs are bad enough, I don't need chickens," he said.
Schultz suggested forming the subcommittee to create detailed regulations before the Council voted.
RockVam agreed that it was only fair to establish a committee and volunteered to serve on it. Schulz also volunteered. Guggisberg also agreed to be on the committee. Other members will be added later. The subcommittee will have until the first City Council meeting of July to develop regulations.
The Council approved plans and specification for the 2014 MSAS Improvement Project. The Council received written and oral comments at the March 4 Public Hearing on this project, and the plans and specification have been approved by MnDOT Office of State Aid. The preliminary estimate of the project is $2.8 million with $300,000 coming from a 2014 Bond Issue. The project involves improvements to Highway 29 near the Runnings store.
The Council approved a motion concerning the 2007 special assessment for a lot in Dacotah West Addition and set a public hearing. This addition was previously assessed on a unit basis at $25,921.51 per lot in December 2007. The developer did not pay any taxes or special assessments for a period of five years and the bulk of the subdivision went to tax-forfeited land. As of April 28, a Certificate of Occupancy has been issued for the new construction on Lot 1, Block 1, of the addition.