Tim Richmond is finally building his chicken coop.
The husband and father of four has been trying to keep up to 10 chickens in his backyard since he moved to Maplewood from rural Missouri several years ago. But he had never been able to meet the city’s requirement to get permission from every one of his neighbors.
That changed this summer when, in an embrace of urban farming, the Maplewood City Council rewrote its rules to not only make it easier to keep chickens but also leave behind the manicured lawns that have been the uniform of suburban homes for decades.
Maplewood homeowners, no matter what size their property, now will be able to rent and keep goats for months at a time, raise pheasants, start beekeeping hives, grow gardens in their front lawns and carve out space for community gardens.
They also will be able to build a chicken coop if they get permission from at least 60 percent of their neighbors, freeing the Richmonds to go ahead with their project despite the one homeowner on the block who objected.
“It was tough because I never got a reason why someone opposed it,” Richmond said. “So how do you work with them to correct it? Maybe we could have tried for fewer birds or put up a privacy fence, or maybe it was a different beef that didn’t have to do with the chickens at all.”
‘A nontraditional look’
Most cities and towns in the metro area allow backyard chickens with varying degrees of stipulations. St. Paul requires approval of 75 percent of neighbors, while Minneapolis only requires neighborhood approval if a resident wants to raise more than six.
After studying the issue for about two years, Maplewood council members decided that getting the unanimous approval of neighbors was too high a bar. Then they decided it was time to regulate the growing push for other forms of urban farming.
“It’s ambitious to do it all at once, so we’ll see how it goes,” said Mayor Nora Slawik. “Things are changing and people want things like front yard gardens and to try new ways to get rid of buckthorn. I know one person’s garden can be another’s nemesis. It will be a nontraditional look. We just have to be clear on the rules and we will keep evaluating it.”
Scott Creer, who has lived in Maplewood since 2011, said that St. Paul gave him the idea of renting goats to tackle invasive buckthorn. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul recently joined a number of counties that have been renting goats off and on for years to help clear out invasive plants at parks around the metro area.
Creer hired the same company once used by St. Paul to help clear out buckthorn that was spreading on his family’s roughly 3-acre lot.
“It was just an awesome experience,” Creer said. “The goats, themselves, were extremely docile; my son was two years old and got to see them. They really made it more manageable to get rid of the weeds.”
Creer rented the goats at a time when there were no laws on the books to regulate them. If he were to rent them this year, he would need both a permit and permission from at least 60 percent of his neighbors living within 150 feet of his home.
“I think it’s just the wrong way to do it,” Creer said. “Permit costs are only going to get passed on to customers.”
The council’s decision to let a majority of neighbors essentially decide what a resident can do on private property will only lead to trouble, he said. There could be any number of reasons why one neighbor would block another that would have nothing to do with goats, including personal feuds, grudges or prejudices, he said.
City Council members said they wanted rules that would allow residents to use goats rather than pesticides, raise chickens and grow vegetables in their front yards — while also permitting objections from neighbors who moved to the suburbs not expecting to see sights more common on a farm.
The rules are incremental, said Council Member Kathleen Juenemann. While demand is growing for more functional yards and locally grown food, she said, the new city policy won’t cause a rush on front yard gardens or a surge in goat rentals.
“I don’t foresee that many people wanting goats, I just don’t,” Juenemann said. “We just need something consistent that allows for people who would like to do this without being unreasonable on people who don’t want anything to do with it.”