Duke and Donald, with their feathery silken green heads, hardly look the part of outlaws. Neither does Lucky, clucking contentedly in the arms of her 11-year-old owner.
But, for the moment at least, they are. Or more specifically, the two families who live on opposite sides of Cottage Grove and own four ducks and three chickens are -- at least in the eyes of the city.
Cottage Grove has joined a long list of Twin Cities communities confronting the issue of whether, or how, to allow chickens and other fowl in residential areas. The City Council, on the eve of a holiday at which oversized farm fowl are guests of honor, weighed an ordinance change allowing the birds on lots of less than 5 acres.
Council members opted on Wednesday night to return the issue to the city's Planning Commission to come up with a recommendation, giving the birds running afoul of the law a reprieve -- for now.
At least two families in Cottage Grove, the Burtmans and the Olsons, have illicit fowl. They aren't trying to hide anything, but they are hoping the city will change the ordinance.
"I tell you what, I'd cry if the city told me I couldn't keep my ducks," said Bob Burtman, who keeps two drake mallards and two white Pekin ducks in his back yard. "They've just become a part of our family."
Brian and Rykna Olson, and their daughter, Aria,, have three chickens in a small coop at their home, also in a residential neighborhood. They enjoy collecting their three daily eggs, and the neighborhood kids like to come and visit the birds, Rykna Olson said.
"They're smarter and have far more personality than I would have expected," Brian Olson said.
Both families had fowl last year, but recent complaints have prompted the city to consider the change -- and hold off on enforcing the ordinance.
Burtman said he is baffled by the one complaint about his ducks. He surveyed all his nearby neighbors. Some said they make less noise than dogs, or they didn't even know he had them; others didn't care. His next-door neighbor, he said, particularly enjoys them. One neighbor, however, submitted video of ducks quacking as they sat on their nearby deck.
The Olsons know of only one neighbor who has a problem with their chickens. But that's all it takes to make the issue a public policy question.
Cottage Grove has been bandying about the issue for much of this year, said John McCool, a senior planner with the city. Last spring, the city surveyed 19 Twin Cities communities to gauge their stands on chickens and other farm animals. The survey was expanded to 52 communities in September.
The comprehensive study looked at an array of issues: property values, which animals to allow and how many, lot size and proximity to neighbors, license costs, coop requirements, whether slaughtering is allowed, input from neighbors, waste disposal, regulation of egg sales and whether to allow only hens or both hens and roosters.
The survey found that, of the 52 communities, about two-thirds have so far opted against allowing farm animals in urban settings.
"Our advantage there is that, one-third of cities have already done this," McCool said. "So we're able to learn from the kinds of challenges of what they've already had to deal with."
Part of the problem revealed in the survey, he said, is trying to create an ordinance that is fair to everyone. "If you allow chickens, then do you allow for other fowl?" he said. "And then, where do you draw that line?" In some cases, cities that have allowed chickens have then been confronted with demands to allow potbellied pigs, goats, sheep and pigeons.
"What we found [in the survey] is that in every community, it's such a small percentage of people that want to do this," McCool said. "But it becomes a big issue if a neighbor doesn't like it."
Mayor Myron Bailey told the council Wednesday he had received a letter voicing concern about a "chicken fad," prompting him to survey his own neighbors.
"The response was loudly and clearly, no way do they want chickens in their back yards."
Jim Anderson • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @StribJAnderson