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Residents flock to support chickens

Proposal would allow four hens on properties less than 10 acres

June 19, 2012

Mequon - Residents packed a public welfare committee meeting last week to speak out in favor of an ordinance amendment that would allow chickens on residential lots between three-quarters of an acre and 10 acres.

The amendment would allow up to four hens - roosters would be prohibited - on enclosures that would need to be 50 feet from side or rear lot lines. The enclosures wouldn't be allowed to exceed 40 square feet, would be prohibited from public view, and chicken feed would need to be stored in sealed containers.

Officials got a mixed reaction from the public after sending out letters to different associations and soliciting feedback on the city's website.

"About a third said chickens are good, a third said chickens are evil, and a third said chickens are OK, but with restrictions," Alderman John Wirth said.

Margaret Amato, who has had between eight to 10 chickens on her property during the last 10 years, said they haven't been a disturbance.

"We've never had a neighbor say, 'your chickens are noisy or smelly,' " Amato said.

Steve Smith, a self-described member of Mequon's "underground chicken scene" - a group of Mequon residents who already have chickens on smaller lots, though it isn't officially allowed - told committee members that the chicken owners he knows are a careful group.

"They look at this as a hobby, in an ecological sense," Smith said. "Often the chickens are pampered."

He went on to say that residents' concerns over the cleanliness of chickens aren't justified, and that chickens won't necessarily attract more wildlife.

"If you keep a clean coop, you're not going to bring in more predators," Smith said.

Many of the residents in attendance clucked over the idea of having to ask neighbors for permission to raise chickens and the proposed limit of four hens, telling the committee that four wouldn't keep eggs on their tables year-round.

"Four is not enough," Amato said. "Most chickens don't lay 365 days a year."

Members of the audience suggested to the committee that the limit be raised to eight hens.

Wirth told the audience that homeowner association rules regarding poultry and livestock would trump any decision the city would make, and that he would be in favor of restricting where residents could have chickens.

"I would limit this to the rural residential zoned districts," Wirth said.

Officials laid out a pecking order for the advancement of the amendment for those in attendance, explaining that it will have to come before the Public Welfare Committee again for discussion in early July, then next to the Plan Commission, and finally to the Common Council at a date to be determined.

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