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Kevin Bonham, Forum News Service, Published December 06 2013

Park River woman disputes ordinance banning city chickens

PARK RIVER, N.D. – The hens living at 922 Chickadee Lane soon could be booted from their roost, unless the Park River City Council grants them a reprieve.

The 3-year-old chickens – two Rhode Island Reds and two Buff Orpingtons – belong to Teresa Gire, a retired Farm Service Agency employee who grew up on a nearby farm.

But the hens are illegal in Park River, which has a decades-old ordinance on the books that prohibits the raising of livestock, including chickens, within the city limits.

“They’re my pets, and my grandchildren’s pets,” she said.

Her grandchildren, 8-year-old Zayah and 6-year-old Drake, live just down the street in town. She said Zayah has been hoping the hens could be a 4-H project when she is old enough to join the organization next year.

Gire keeps the chickens in a backyard coop, an enclosed, heated 4-by-10-foot structure that bears the fictional Chickadee Lane address on a sign. These days, the coop is decked out for the holidays with a Christmas wreath and stockings bearing the names of the four hens: Buttercup, Daisy, Sweet Pea and Violet, the last one named for her mother, Eleanor Violet Fjeld, who died this year. Her sister, Marsha, died about three years ago.

“I’ve lost some people in my family,” she said, “and those people are why those chickens are here. They take me back to a time when they were here. I feel they give me solace, some kind of peace.”

City ban

That solace ended at about 9:45 p.m. Nov. 13, when two Walsh County deputy sheriffs knocked on her door and informed her that she had to get rid of her chickens, she said.

The law provides penalties of up to $500 and 30 days in jail.

The deputies earlier had responded to a complaint about another Park River resident who was raising chickens, as well as a rooster. Apparently the rooster’s crowing bothered a neighbor, according to City Manager Tom Larson.

When authorities investigated, they learned that Gire had chickens, too.

“There’s never been a problem with them,” she said of the chickens. “They weren’t hidden. City people walk by them every time they read my electric meter. Nobody ever complained. Nobody ever knew they were here.”

A week later, Park River City Council voted 3-2 in a special meeting to uphold the law.

Gire, who was out of town and unable to attend the meeting, later persuaded city leaders to reconsider the issue. The council meets at 7:30 p.m. Monday.

Laws elsewhere

In the meantime, Gire has been researching livestock laws around the state and trying to rally friends and neighbors to support her and her hens.

She sent letters to city officials in 38 North Dakota cities with populations of 900 or more. Of the 22 that responded, eight indicated they allow poultry, with a variety of restrictions. Most prohibit roosters, as well as restrict the number of hens allowed.

Grand Forks and Fargo allow chickens to be raised within city limits. Others include Dickinson, Hazen, Lakota, Lisbon, New Rockford and Walhalla.

Mayor Dan Stenvold said he has heard that at least three Park River residents were raising chickens, at the time the original complaint was made. One of them also raises pigeons.

“If the council wants to amend the ordinance, that’s the way it will be,” he said.

If the vote ends in a tie, he’ll be called upon to break it.

While he declined to say how he might vote in that event, he’s anxious to move past the issue.

“We’ve got bigger things to worry about,” he said, such as coming up with $1.35 million to match a grant from the State Water Commission to build a new $2.7 million water tower.

“We’ve done so many good things in Park River,” he said. “This ordinance is just a small bump in the road, but to some people it’s a huge deal.”