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Mequon still dancing around chicken rules

City considers how other communities peck at the issue

July 11, 2012

Mequon - City officials are strutting toward a decision on a scrutinized proposal that, if enacted, would allow residents with smaller lot sizes to have chickens.

But more specifics need to be hashed out for the revised ordinance to go into effect.

The Common Council's Public Welfare Committee met Tuesday to review specifics of the proposal, which would allow residents living on lots ranging from three-quarters of an acre to 10 acres to have up to four hens.

City ordinances currently allow residents living on more than 10 acres to have chickens.

The committee began discussing the issue last month and is in the process of crafting a tentative ordinance before it goes before the Plan Commission for further review and to the Common Council for ultimate approval.

Dealing with chickens

At Tuesday's meeting, committee members received a city staff report of how hybrid suburban-rural communities handle chickens within their municipal boundaries.

The city of Cedarburg, for example, only allows chickens on lots of 35 acres or greater. But the village of Germantown permits a maximum of 10 chickens on lots of 2 acres or more.

The committee did not take any action at this week's meeting. Instead, staff members were directed to assemble a list of proposed guidelines.

During this week's discussion, many committee members favored a prohibition of slaughtering any chickens. Also, it is likely roosters - noisier than their female counterparts - would not be allowed.

Other details - including permissible enclosures, cleaning procedures and enforcement - will also be hashed over at the next meeting.

Flock of support

In recent months, city officials have been gathering feedback from residents and the heads of local homeowners' associations on the proposal.

As was the case last month, residents flocked to the committee meeting and offered support for such an ordinance.

"I think that people who want them should be able to have them," said resident Jenny Strom, who grew up in Mequon and recently returned to the community with her husband.

"I think people can be responsible homeowners and chicken owners," Strom said. "This is not farming. It's about a sustainable food source that's better for all of us."

City officials assert there has been interest in keeping chickens - a movement that has grown in other communities, including urban ones such as the city of Milwaukee.

Jac Zader, assistant director of community development, said he typically fields between two and three calls a month from current and prospective residents on the topic.

Ruffled feathers, too

Alderman John Wirth, who sits on the committee, said he was conflicted on the prospect of changing the ordinance. He suggested property owners in newer parts of the city expect to live in more of a suburban environment.

Wirth also cited feedback results, with about a third favoring amending the ordinance, a third against it and a third approving, so long as specific restrictions are put in place.

"I'm a little bit torn here," Wirth said. "I'm not sure if I can read much into (the results). This is a tough issue."

Mequon is the latest of several North Shore communities to discuss chicken keeping. In recent years, officials in Fox Point and Shorewood have looked into such a scenario, though neither actually went forward with an ordinance.

NEXT STEP

WHAT: continued discussion of proposed chicken ordinance in Mequon

WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Aug. 14

WHERE: City Hall, 11333 N. Cedarburg Road

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