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Janesville Plan Commission recommends against chickens

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GINA R. HEINE
February 16, 2010
— Janesville Plan Commission members listened to a dozen residents speak Monday about a proposed ordinance change to allow backyard chickens before recommending against the proposal.

The commission voted 6-0, with Lori Hanewold abstaining, to follow the city administration’s negative recommendation on changing city ordinance. Commissioners did not discuss the issue before voting.


The commission’s recommendation goes to city council members, who are scheduled to discuss the issue and hold a public hearing at their meeting Monday.


Nine residents on Monday night spoke in favor of the proposal to allow up to four chickens—no roosters—while three residents spoke against it.


Several supporters said they were surprised at how big of a deal it is becoming to make the change to allow chickens.


Resident Allison Rollette, a supporter who is leading a grassroots effort to educate residents about keeping chickens, said she was disappointed in the staff recommendation because its report didn’t have anything really negative to say about chickens.


She said the city is spending more than $500,000 on biomass waste—food scraps, yard waste, etc.—at the landfill. If 10 percent of the city’s households raised chickens to recycle yard waste, the taxpayer savings would be about $55,000 a year. She said 10 percent of households would be a fair number to strive for over several years.


As a landlord, Dale Hicks said he is against having chickens in regards to tenants. Hicks owns eight properties and 25 rental units and is the president of the Janesville Area Rental Property Association.


If someone has chickens in a yard that he or she owns, that’s different, he said. But Hicks questioned the commission on a list of issues it would raise for tenants, including if landlords would be responsible for loose chickens and how the city would address multiple tenants at one property wanting chickens.


“I don’t want that responsibility,” he said.


Hanewold said landlords decide whether or not to allow cats or dogs, so she wondered how chickens would be different.


Hicks said landlords would have to specify chicken restrictions in rental agreements.


Others who spoke against the proposal said livestock should not be allowed in the city.


Resident Al Lembrich said he grew up on a farm and raised chickens for 20 years.


He said it would be a travesty to overturn an ordinance for a “few people who believe it would be cool,” ignoring the wisdom of previous councils and the other 60,000 residents. Changes to ordinances should be done with wide support and based on sound principles and needs, he said.


Diane Van Horn said she grows her own vegetables, bakes her own bread and buys all her meat from two local farmers. The next obvious step for her would be backyard chickens, she said.


If Madison, Jefferson and Fort Atkinson allow chickens, she said she doesn’t see any reason Janesville shouldn’t.


“I believe this movement will only grow and soon most cities will allow chickens,” she said. “I don’t think this is a passing fad. I believe that self-sufficiency will become a new, old way of life and keeping chickens will be a large part of it.”



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