Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Backyard Chickens in the city?

If you are one of the people in Grand Rapids who has been dying for the city commission to allow the city to move further along with the Slow Food movement and allow residents to keep chickens, this month might hold out hope for you.

On Tuesday, February 10, city leaders passed several amendments to a proposed ordinance, modifying the circumstances under which home owners could keep chickens on their property. Among these, they lowered the lot size required to keep 4 chickens from 5,000 square feet to 3,800 square feet which would allow more residents to keep chickens. Commissioners discussed among themselves a provision requiring neighbor consent. If a neighbor sharing a lot line objects to the chickens during the 21-day period after a permit is filled out, no chickens would be allowed.

There was disagreement between the commissioners about whether to allow chickens on duplex properties, but this passed 4-3. Multi-family buildings like apartment complexes will not be allowed to keep chickens. The commission also specified that chickens not be housed within 50 feet of any backyard catch basin, to ensure that any chicken waste would not spread into the water system. Roosters, of course, will not be allowed.

The number of chickens to be allowed per property is still undecided. Commissioners will meet again and vote on this ordinance on February 24. If passed, the two-year trial run would begin May 1, 2015.

It's well known that there are already chickens on many properties throughout the city, and not just on properties that can accommodate the provision that chickens must be housed no closer than 100 feet from any other dwelling, dwelling unit, spring, stream, drainage ditch, or drain. In neighborhoods largely populated by immigrants, they are particularly present - but illegally. Some families have tried keeping chickens semi-secretly but neighbors complained and they were cited and fined.

The passing of this proposed ordinance would allow residents who wish to follow local law to keep chickens and not violate their consciences. Many of these families already have gardens within the city, and are willing to put the time and the money into modifying their landscapes to make them more suitable for chickens, whether that means adding a chicken house, a small pond, or fencing off part of their yard to make room. They believe strongly that adding chickens would strengthen community and be a learning experience for their children and neighbors about where real food originates.

Frankly, given the city's reputation for food innovation, this is long overdue. It's time to make that dream a reality in Grand Rapids.