Code amendment request has Little Canada mulling chickens

Though it had requested in late August a draft ordinance allowing chickens to be kept in the city, the Little Canada City Council voted against adopting the ordinance at its Sept. 14 meeting.

Little Canada city code, when it comes to chickens and other animals deemed to be livestock, is clear: No land in the city is zoned to be farmland, so no farm animals are allowed in the city.

The code even contains a bit of City Hall's reasoning behind the prohibition, noting a past city council "deem[ed] this Ordinance necessary and vital in order to maintain the suburban, non-agricultural character of the City."

However, after listening to a persuasive argument from a poultry keeper Aug. 24, the city council has directed city staff to research how to possibly allow at least some chickens to be kept legally in the city.

Renee Schott wrote a letter to the council seeking an amendment to city code pertaining to chickens. At the meeting, she said that she did so because she and her husband are looking at buying a five-acre property in Little Canada, so long as her 12 chickens can live there too.

"Re-homing them is not an option for us," said Schott, who explained her birds aren't kept for eggs, but instead as outdoor pets. "I've owned chickens my whole life; they're my favorite pet."

Schott, a veterinarian who said she works for the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota and for other organizations, made it clear she's not asking the council to open the city up to urban farming.

"I don't really support urban chickens and the backyard chicken movement," she said, explaining that many of her pet chickens are rescues or strays, the result of people attempting and failing to keep chickens. 

Schott said the council should only allow well-informed people to keep chickens in the city.

Council member Michael McGraw agreed with Schott on one point right off the bat.

"I am not in favor of urban chickens [or] farm animals," he said. "I'm just not in favor of it."

McGraw, though, said that in the case of Schott's request, it mattered that she was a veterinarian who knew how to properly care for the animals.

Council member Tom Fischer echoed some of McGraw's sentiments, and noted that it would be difficult to craft an ordinance that would limit owning chickens to only the well-informed.

"I'm not sure we're able to legislate having educated people with chickens," he said, explaining the "the door would be open" to people who might not know how to responsibly care for poultry.

Still, the council wasn't ready to slam the door on the request — Mayor John Keis said Schott's background played in her favor.

"This is always a tough one when you have a qualified person come in and ask for it," he said.

The council directed city staff to look into making some sort of arrangement that would work both for the city and Schott's backyard chickens.

Council member Christian Torkelson said he'd like to see city staff find a way to allow chickens on large lots such as the one Schott is looking at, while also working on rules pertaining to smaller lots. He also said he'd be in favor of a permitting process that requires training for residents who want raise chickens.

"It's the standard urban chicken argument — versus a unique application," said City Administrator Joel Hanson. "I'm not sure if there's a creative way to get there or not."

"That seems to be one of your fortes, Mr. Hanson, finding those creative ways," said McGraw, adding that he'd love to tell Schott her specific request is a "slam dunk," though the city must look at the issue more broadly.

Even with the council's willingness to revisit city code when it comes to chickens in Little Canada, McGraw noted the difficulty of mandating that people hold an interest in animals they acquired on a whim.

"They can be just like little kids. They're so interested in the bunny when they get it on Easter, then a week later they could care less," he said. "And you can't legislate [against] that."


To roost or not

The council last discussed urban chickens about four years ago, Hanson said in the days after the meeting.

He said the council's reasoning for not changing city code back then is the same as stated in the code itself — it didn't want to change the character of the suburb by letting in chickens or other farm animals.

Schott said she currently lives in Roseville because her pet chickens are allowed to live there as well. 

Last year, New Brighton City Council meetings where a proposed chicken ordinance was up for debate drew large and divided crowds. The New Brighton council eventually approved city code allowing domestic fowl in the suburb and instituted several regulations, including limiting the number of birds a homeowner could have, minimum size of a backyard plot and the distance the coop had to be from lot lines.

Hanson said the council is leery of setting bad precedent with respect to Schott's chickens, though he said the council found her case compelling.

"The combination of her experience and the parcel she's looking at ... [is] why the council is considering it," he said.

The next Little Canada City Council meeting is Sept.  14, and Hanson said the council would likely revisit pet chickens then.



Mike Munzenrider can be reached at or 651-748-7813. Follow him on Twitter @mmunzenrider.



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