Park River hens won’t have to fly the coop
PARK RIVER, N.D. — Chickens — or at least hens — rule the roost in Park River, where voters overwhelmingly approved an ordinance amendment Tuesday to allow residents to keep up to eight hens.
Residents voted 265-159 in favor of the change to a decades-old law that outlawed all kinds of livestock in the city.
“It’s a good day today,” Teresa Gire said Wednesday. Gire has a backyard coop and campaigned with the slogan, “A hen is a pet with benefits.”
The measure was initiated last fall after complaints were filed at City Hall against at least one resident who kept chickens, including a rooster, in a backyard coop. According to the complaint, the rooster disrupted their sleep.
Park River is a Walsh County community of 1,400 — about 60 miles northwest of Grand Forks.
When local officials checked, they discovered the old law, which prohibited all poultry.
So, all three known poultry owners — and apparent animal law scofflaws — were informed they had to get rid of their chickens.
Gire, who regards her hens as pets not just for her but for her grandchildren, decided to fight City Hall. She had four hens that lived in an enclosed, heated 4-by-10-foot structure that bears the fictional 922 Chickadee Lane address.
“I’ve lost some people in my family,” she said last fall, “and those people are why those chickens are here. They take me back to a time when they were here. I feel they give me solace, some kind of peace.”
Gire and other community members convinced Park River City Council to reconsider the ordinance. After a tie vote, Mayor Dan Stenvold and City Council decided to put the issue on the ballot.
Gire and some friends campaigned by placing signs and information cards around the community touting benefits of a hen-raising hobby, including fresh eggs and potential 4-H projects for youths in the community.
She also campaigned door-to-door.
“I’m just overwhelmed and so grateful to people in Park River,” she said. “I hope other people can feel free to raise chickens if they want to, and it’s fun for the kids.”
“I think democracy works,” Stenvold said. “It was such a hot topic. No matter what decision we made would have been wrong.”
City officials are just beginning to work out the details of amended ordinance, according to Stenvold.
“There’s a lot of steps people will have to take to get chickens,” he said.
Under the law change, residents may keep as many as eight hens without a license, as long as they have approval from 75 percent of the property owners within 200 feet of their coops, and comply with other rules governing the poultry, including a ban on slaughtering or butchering within city limits.
The mayor also said city officials now can concentrate on pressing infrastructure issues.
City Council will open bids next month on a project to replace the city’s 80-year-old water tower, as well as to replace about 5,000 feet of water mains in town.
“The water tower had a 50-year life expectancy and the estimate to make repairs was over $900,000,” he said.
The city also is working on its new North Star housing addition, where construction has begun or is about to begin on three new houses.