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Published May 05 2010

West Fargo pecks away at ordinance that would allow chickens

A request to allow chickens in residential areas of West Fargo has the potential to ruffle feathers, but proponents said it would promote sustainable living in the city on the grow.

Justin and Ashley Morken have asked West Fargo commissioners to revise ordinances so residents could house up to four hens in a backyard coop, as long as surrounding neighbors approve.

The Morkens said allowing chickens in the city would promote eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyles, which have grown more common among younger generations.

Eggs from the chickens provide food, and the animals’ droppings can be used for fertilizer in home gardens, Justin Morken told the commission during a public hearing on the issue Monday night.

The proposal would prohibit chickens from running free in backyards and prohibit the slaughter of chickens within the city.

Morken said chickens tend to be quieter and less messy than dogs, and only hens would be allowed, so early morning rooster crowing wouldn’t disturb neighbors.

But city commissioners and a resident who spoke Monday voiced some reservations about the idea. The commission postponed action until May 17.

West Fargo city staff will draft an ordinance change for commissioners to consider by then.

Commissioner Mark Simmons was the most reluctant about changing the ordinance. Other commissioners seemed more open to the idea as long as provisions were in place to regulate the chickens.

“I don’t see moving the city forward with chickens is the way I personally want to go as a commissioner,” Simmons said Monday night. He offered a motion to deny the proposal, but it failed after not receiving a second.

Commissioner Mike Thorstad said he favored an approach similar to Minneapolis’ ordinance.

Domestic fowl, such as chickens, are allowed in Minneapolis as long as residents obtain a city permit and have written consent from at least 80 percent of property owners within 100 feet.

“What worries me most is that somebody’s going to think their backyard is their chicken run, and I know if I was a neighbor and I saw the chickens running around in the backyard, that wouldn’t make me very happy,” Thorstad said. “Through a permitting process, if we have people that are not living up to the spirit of the agreement, we can revoke that permit and take their rights away.”

West Fargo resident David Wyum told the commission he opposes the ordinance change.

“I don’t like the idea or the concept of farm animals in an urban environment,” Wyum said, adding that it could pose problems for developers trying to sell property in the city.

The Morkens cited other cities that have enacted policies allowing chickens, including Fargo – which has had a policy since 1952.

Fergus Falls, Minn., enacted its own policy in July 2009. Two permits have been issued for chickens in residential neighborhoods there, and so far there have been no problems, said Al Haiby, the city’s animal control officer.

Casselton, N.D., used to allow chickens in the city, but then changed the ordinance in January 2005 banning them after residents complained about chickens owned by another resident. Moorhead also doesn’t allow domestic fowl.

Justin Morken said he was optimistic after the commission’s discussion, and he hopes the public will listen to the benefits of the proposal.

“It seems that the commission in general is interested in at least looking at the law and coming up with a version that fits West Fargo’s unique needs,” Morken said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541