Thanks to a group of plucky teens, the city of Farmington has decided to put a little bit of the "farm" back in its name by allowing residents to raise chickens — but the city is still proceeding cautiously.
All four City Council members who were present voted in favor of the ordinance last week, bringing the city's two-year battle over backyard chickens to a close.
Still, there was some disappointment. The original ordinance was amended at the meeting, reducing the number of chickens allowed from six to three and calling for a check-in on how things are going in about a year.
"We were hoping for six, because it's easier to go with an even number," said Annabelle Randow, 15, one of the youth involved in 4-H who gave a presentation about backyard chickens to the council in February.
The changes were suggested by Council Member Christy Jo Fogarty, who said she had received many negative e-mails from residents who were concerned about allowing chickens in Farmington.
"The comment I got a lot was that chickens belong on a farm, not in a neighbor's back yard," Fogarty said.
In response, Randow said she was "a little disappointed that so many people called about them being farm animals, because they can be pets, too."
Council Member Douglas Bonar was a part of the Planning Commission that originally considered the chickens in 2011 and has been in favor of it ever since. Though the commission gave a positive recommendation in 2011, the City Council voted against it that summer. Bonar said the concept has been "pretty safely vetted over the past two years."
Farmington will join more than a dozen Twin Cities suburbs that already allow chickens on residential property, including Burnsville, Eagan and Rosemount in Dakota County.
Tony Wippler, assistant city planner, wrote the updated ordinance, which included several changes from the 2011 version. Most notable was a zoning change that limits chickens to lots larger than 10,000 square feet, in lots zoned "low density residential," he said. The change was Mayor Todd Larson's suggestion, Wippler said, because he "wanted to take baby steps" with the idea.
The zoning specifications mean that about 62 percent of Farmington's residential properties qualify. Most of the smaller lots that don't are near downtown, he said.
In addition, the ordinance specifies that a public hearing will take place after any resident applies for a permit to keep chickens.
Wippler said that the teens' presentation to the council in January was really "the only reason" the council was considering the chickens proposal again.
Their presentation took an educational approach, touting chickens as part of a move toward a sustainable lifestyle. The students also addressed what they called common myths about keeping chickens. Lerew Kaas, 14, said that these myths include chickens attracting rodents and predators or smelling bad.
"But if you clean their cages, they won't be [smelly]," Kaas said.
Fogarty said that though she wasn't generally in favor of the idea, she recognized that Farmington has a large number of agricultural classes at the high school and that Farmington is on the edge of a rural area.
She acknowledged residents' persistence with the chickens ordinance after the vote.
"I know it's been a long road and we've not made it easy," she said.
Kaas said that although he was pleased the ordinance passed, having three animals isn't really conducive to showing chickens at the Dakota County or State Fair, where they must be shown in lots of two.
"So now I'll only be able to show one lot of chickens and one will be left out," he said.
His mother, Nell Kaas, who grew up on a chicken farm, noted that three chickens will produce only about three eggs a day, "which isn't really worth it."
But, "We'll be patient. We'll hope they'll up [the number of chickens allowed] next year," she said.
Though it remains to be seen how many Farmington residents will actually be interested in raising chickens and apply for permits — the city of Eagan approved backyard chickens last October but has issued only one permit so far — the handful of teens at the meeting all said they can't wait to get started.
"I'm going to start building my coop tonight!" said Lerew Kaas.