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Edgerton chicken debate to be continued

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
June 5, 2012
— The Edgerton City Council on Monday took steps toward cleaning its livestock ordinances, but it might have left the door cracked open for a discussion on backyard chickens in residential parts of the city.

The council approved a first read on a laundry list of zoning and ordinance changes that would serve to limit backyard chickens and other livestock to agricultural-zoned areas, most of which are on the outskirts of the city.


The changes, which were pushed to a second read later this month on a 5-0 vote, effectively would bar backyard chickens and other livestock from residential parts of the city. However, under city rules, any Edgerton resident is allowed to petition the city for an ordinance or zoning change.


Resident Andy Wellnitz of Edgerton plans to do that. Wellnitz told the council he opposes limiting backyard chickens to agricultural-zoned areas and he'd like to see the city give residential chickens a chance.


He pointed out the birds eat lots of insects, and they give people access to farm-fresh eggs. Plus, there's a learning opportunity for families.


"Family farms are dying out," Wellnitz said. "It's a good family project."


Wellnitz said pending the council's final decision on the changes, he'd probably circle back and petition for a change to allow a small number of hens in residential parts of the city.


Under city rules, if Wellnitz did that, it could spark a new discussion and possibly a public hearing on the issue at either the city council or the plan commission, depending on the nature of the change.


City Administrator Ramona Flanigan said any plans for residential chickens would require volumes of conditions and limitations.


"There'd be a lot of work ahead," she said.


Wellnitz said he'd likely research ordinances from other cities such as Madison, which allows residential chickens with conditions. He said he just wants the city to consider the idea.


"I'm not trying to cause a flap. I just think it deserves an open discussion," he said.


It's not clear if city officials have any appetite for that discussion.


On Monday, the council mainly discussed the nuts and bolts of the ordinance. Most members seemed hesitant to bring up their thoughts on residential chickens, although, in the past, Alderman Ron Webb and Mayor Chris Lund have spoken out against the idea.


In 2010, the council was split, 3-3, on a separate request by residents for backyard chickens. Lund broke the tie by voting against the measure, saying residents overwhelmingly disapproved of the idea in a straw poll council members had conducted.


However, the council now has three different members compared to 2010.


In the last two years, a handful of residents have asked city officials for permission to keep small numbers of chickens in residential areas of the city. Officials have told residents that chickens are not allowed, but the city has a patchwork of conflicting ordinances on backyard chickens.


The changes pushed forward Monday would shore up city rules, effectively pushing backyard chickens to the outer-fringes of the city, and even eliminating an old ordinance that outlines a permitting process for residential chickens.



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