(Crystal A. Proxmire, Ferndale 115 News, 01/15/2012)
Last summer’s chicken coop discussions finally came to a vote at Monday night’s City Council meeting, with council voting unanimously to change the regulations and give potential chicken owners a framework to legally keep and house fowl on their property.
The new regulations allow residents to keep up to three chickens if they follow basic rules of care. Previously chickens were not expressly prohibited, but rules about the placement of coops meant that very few residents would qualify to build one on their property. According to the City’s proposal, “After discussion with the City Attorney and the Commission it was determined that a regulatory change, as opposed to a zoning change, is the more protective direction to take. It removes the ability for any future ‘grandfathering’ of the use and also, it eliminates the ability to appeal the approved criteria to the Zoning Board of Appeals.”
The new regulation includes the following provisions:
“As structured the ordinance would allow for the raising and keeping of three (3) hen chickens and no roosters. Residents would be required to receive an annual permit which would expire on December 31st of each year. Any applicant receiving a permit is required to schedule an inspection within 30 days of the permit issuance, if violations are noted at the inspection the applicant has 15 additional days to resolve the identified issues. Chickens are required to be kept in the rear yard, structures (coops) must be designed to prevent accessibility to vermin, feed must be secured in enclosed containers and compliance with the Michigan Department of Agriculture Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices for the Care of Farm Animals (GAMPS) must be maintained.”
A group of residents, led by Laura Mikulski, encouraged the City to consider changing the ordinance. On April 19 we brought you news of Ferndalians raising chickens under the radar, and of Mikulaki’s quest to make it legal. While the young resident does not currently have chickens, she knows those who do and has worked hard to make it permissible for them. http://oaklandcounty115.com/2011/04/20/chicken-coops-in-ferndale/ . She and supporters researched how other cities handled urban chickens, and put together a website to educate people – and City Council – about the subject. (http://ferndalechickens.com/) She also asked interested residents to sign an online petition asking for a change in the ordinance which would allow coops to be built near homes. (http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/support-backyard-chickens-in-ferndale/). The petition got 235 signatures, though not all from Ferndale. It also got the attention of City officials.
In September the Planning Commission voted unanimously to send a recommendation to council, and Members of 4H Oakland County came to Ferndale with an example of a free-standing chicken coop with three real live chickens in it. They also had youngsters there with some of their chickens to answer any questions people had about raising the creatures. (http://oaklandcounty115.com/2011/09/15/council-to-vote-on-chicken-coops/)
The Ferndale 115 also investigated the chicken issue, and featured a family that has been raising chickens in the city. http://oaklandcounty115.com/2011/04/20/chicken-coops-in-ferndale/. A vote was expected in September, but that was pushed forward after public comments questioning the permit process came before council.
Former Mayor (and current Judge) Chuck Goeddert was among those who had opposed backyard chickens in Ferndale. Speaking at a prior meeting he said, “We have an example of what and ideal chicken coop could be, but that’s not a reality.” He said that while growing up on W. Woodland his next door neighbor had a large privacy fence behind which he kept chickens. “He was not the most responsible chicken owner and that’s a problem in an urban area.” He said that noise, smell, and unkempt appearance were problems that encroached on the rights of neighbors, and he urged the commission not to recommend allowing them.
Residents in favor of suburban chickens say they value being able to use their property as they wish, having control over the quality of the food they raise for themselves, and the fun and educational experience that caring for an animal provides
Days before the meeting, Councilperson Mike Lennon said “I am in favor of it on a trial basis. I don’t believe this will affect the quality of life at all unless it is abused and the coops are not kept up etc.”
Councilperson Dan Martin also shared his opinion beforehand “I am generally supportive of the Chicken ordinance in its proposed format. It creates an opportunity for residents to enjoy the benefits of having a limited number of chickens while regulating the concerns and potential problems created by this activity. City employees have expressed that it will not create a significant amount of work for them. I do not think there will be many people to take advantage of this so the overall impact on Ferndale will be limited. I would view the first year as a trial so that if we find unanticipated problems we can revisit it.”
Councilperson Scott Galloway considered both sides. “I remain undecided on the chicken ordinance. My gut tells me that it would be OK given that relatively few people are likely to build chicken coops and from personal knowledge that when done correctly, housing a few chickens (or pigeons) in one’s backyard is not problematic. My head tells me, however, that this is likely to create additional work for an already overworked CDS and that there will be some irresponsible chicken owners in the City,” he said. “I think allowing chickens to be raised within the city will have a negligible effect on the quality of life, good or bad, for 99.99% of Ferndale. I do, however, think it would bolster our image as a D-I-Y/green community in the larger metropolitan area.”
At the Jan. 9 meeting Mayor Coulter expressed concern that police, code enforcement, and administration might not have the time and resources to manage their respective roles in making sure backyard chickens are housed properly.
City Manager April McGrath assured Coulter that time taken up for permitting, which is done on an annual basis with all permits expiring Dec. 31, would be minimal. Police Chief Collins addressed the Mayor’s concerns by stating “We will work hand-in-hand…to make sure that all chicken related issues are handled properly.”
Coulter suggested that the regulation have a one-year expiration date so that council would have to revisit the issue. Others on council disagreed, noting that ordinances can be changed and revisited at any time, so an expiration date would be “duplicative,” to use Councilperson Martin’s description.
Coulter ultimately voted in favor of the regulations. “I have come to support this,” he said. “I had initial reservations, but I kept my mind open.”
Resident Trevor Johnson was at the meeting to express his support. He, Mikulski and others spent months encouraging the City’s research and development of the regulations.
Mikulski was ecstatic. “I’m so glad it’s finally over and I can start building my coop!”
For more information about the permitting process, go to the City of Ferndale website www.ferndale-mi.com To read the regulations in entirety, go to http://ferndale-mi.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&event_id=23&meta_id=25501.