Chickens may come home to roost in St. Paul

  • Article by: CHRIS HAVENS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 15, 2009 - 7:37 PM

The city might make it easier for residents to keep the birds.

A typical summer evening scene in a St. Paul neighborhood:

A woman walks her dog. A neighbor lights charcoal for the grill. Cars putter by. Chickens scratch, peck and cluck in a hedge by the sidewalk.

"The girls are out, huh?" a passerby says to Anna Yust, who owns the chickens.

She smiled. That kind of interaction is exactly what she likes about having hens at her West End home.

For a variety of reasons, more people, like Yust, want to raise chickens in the city. Some want to get closer to their food source. Others just like having poultry for pets.

St. Paul officials are considering whether to make it easier for residents to take chickens under their wings. An ordinance change to be introduced Wednesday would allow residents to keep as many as three hens without requiring neighbors' approval.

Roosters are forbidden, because of noise and fighting concerns.

The proposed ordinance changes, sponsored by Council Member Russ Stark, were spurred by community interest.

Some big cities, such as Atlanta, New York and Seattle, let residents keep chickens. Elsewhere, community groups are pushing for laws allowing urban chickens.

Locally, Minneapolis allows residents to raise chickens; so do Anoka, Burnsville and a few other suburbs. Hastings last week decided against allowing chickens in residential neighborhoods.

Folks against city chickens raise concerns about noise, smells, cleanliness and public health. Some think chickens simply don't belong in the city.

Proponents disagree, saying that chickens provide eggs, cut down on trash because they eat almost anything and aren't that loud.

The changes

Chickens have been allowed in St. Paul for a while, but owners must get a license and the consent of their neighbors. Prospective chicken-keepers need approval of 75 percent of neighbors who live within 150 feet of their property.

The new ordinance would do away with the consent requirement for three or fewer hens.

The fee for keeping three or fewer chickens would go down, too, from $72 to $25. The renewal fee would be $15. The license for having more than three chickens would remain at $72.

The city instituted some rules that took effect in July concerning keeping chickens, such as requiring a fenced enclosure and coop, feed to be kept in a rodent-proof container and prohibiting the sale of eggs or chickens for consumption. And coops aren't allowed in front yards.

A neighborhood curiosity

Julie GebbenGreen has four unnamed hens in her Hamline-Midway back yard that haven't begun laying eggs just yet. It won't be long, though. "They're fun to watch," she said.

"They're quirky. They're cool."

Beyond that, she said, she likes the idea of connecting to her food source. "You go to the grocery store and food magically appears," she said. "With chickens, you need to care for and feed them."

Her three children have learned a lot from the birds, she said, and her compost heap is benefitting greatly from them.

Like Yust on the other side of town, GebbenGreen said the chickens have become a neighborhood curiosity and that reactions have mostly been positive.

For Yust, it's not about saving money on eggs. "It's about having a pet," she said. That said, she gets about 14 eggs a week from her hens.

Yust thinks that it's good that the city might make it easier for people to keep chickens, but she warned that it's critical that people do some research first.

"They're pretty self-sufficient," she said. "But you need to get educated."

There are plenty of resources online and from other nearby chicken owners, she said.

A 'big bird'

Bill Gunther, the city's environmental health manager, began researching the issue of keeping chickens about a year and a half ago.

"I was thinking this wasn't a good idea, but when I did the research I backed off. I'm a city kid, and I'm thinking they're an agrarian animal that belongs on a farm," he said. "But there's a shift in thinking. Chickens are nothing more than a big bird."

At a meeting in July 2008, Gunther listened as people on both sides of the issue gave input. Some people said not allowing roosters puts hens in danger. Others wanted to ban the slaughter of chickens. Some were concerned about chickens being a nuisance.

Gunther admits that the ordinance won't make everybody happy, but he thinks it strikes a middle ground.

Residents will have a chance to weigh in on the issue at a City Council public hearing in September.

Chris Havens • 612-673-4148

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