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Grand Forks might push chickens to roost elsewhere

Grand Forks residents need a permit to keep chickens on their property, but complaints to City Council President Dana Sande have prompted city leaders to consider an outright ban.

chickens

Chickens in Grand Forks may need to fly the coop this summer.

After a resident’s birds ran afoul of neighbors, City Council members preliminarily voted 4-3 on Monday to ban people from keeping chickens within city limits. The council is set to meet again next Tuesday for the first of two definitive votes on the ban. Voting against were council members Katie Dachtler, Bret Weber and Ken Vein. In favor were Danny Weigel, Jeannie Mock, Kyle Kvamme and City Council President Dana Sande, who said he’s heard complaints from constituents in his ward about neighboring chickens, which, Sande said, can rile up dogs and other domestic animals.

“Chickens are a farm animal and don’t belong in residential neighborhoods inside the city limits,” Sande said. “We’re setting up a situation where you’re pitting one neighbor against the other. If (Kvamme) and I are good buddies and he’s next door but I don’t want his chickens, then I have to be the (jerk) to keep him from having his chickens. ... We’re simply providing an avenue to have disagreements between neighbors when I don’t believe it’s necessary. Anybody wants a chicken, move four miles south.”

City code allows residents to keep potbelly pigs, but it bans cattle, horses, mules and other barnyard animals within city limits. Residents can keep chickens and other fowl with the blessing of Grand Forks Public Health administrators, who can issue permits for a given calendar year that allow people to keep the birds, assuming their enclosure is at least 75 feet from human dwellings. Residents who want to keep a coop closer than that must also get written permission from each of their neighbors.

Currently, one person holds such a permit for 2021, according to Javin Bedard, an environmental health manager at the Grand Forks Public Health Department. Staff there field more questions than actual permit applications, Bedard told council members, and requiring neighbors’ permission weeds out a lot of would-be permit-holders.

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Bedard suggested the city change its policy to require residents to get permission from all of their immediate neighbors, regardless of the distance between a coop and a home. Council members also considered requiring permission from all homeowners within 200 feet, rather than 75.

“I also don’t know that I’m ready to just say no chickens,” Kvamme said. “Is it City Council’s job to prevent conflict?”

“Perhaps not,” Sande replied. “It is our responsibility to keep farm animals out of our community, in my opinion. Are we going to allow cows? You want a cow and sheep?”

Kvamme joked that the city could expand the 75-foot radius to a mile for those animals.

Non-permitted chickens are considered a “public nuisance” under city code. Keeping chickens illegally can mean a fine of up to $500 per day after a 10-day grace period.

Amending city ordinances like the one governing chickens requires two formal council votes. Council members are expected to hold the first of those votes July 5.

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“I can hardly wait,” Sande said dryly. “Everyone, tune in for the great chicken debate.”

In May, city council members in Cando, N.D. rejected a resident’s request to keep a flock of up to 10 chickens on her property. The resident, Shana Lannoye, said she wanted to teach her children about the origin of their food and teach them responsibility by raising the birds. Opponents, including Mayor Rollie Bjornstad, worried that a flock would attract pests and predators .

Honeybee oversight

Grand Forks council members are also set to consider rules that would govern beekeeping within city limits. Grand Forks currently does not have a bee policy -- the North Dakota Department of Agriculture regulates bees and beekeepers instead. Residents must apply for a license and submit a “colony assessment” to the state.

Only Sande indicated that he’s heard a complaint about colonies of honeybees. One of the complainants is allergic to them, he said, but he said he also heard from a Grand Forks beekeeper who runs a small business collecting and selling their bees’ honey.

Weber said he kept bees for several years in Grand Forks and joked that he knew each one personally. Neighbors complained, but their worries were about neighborhood wasps, not Weber’s honeybees, he claimed.

In 2018, city leaders explored, but did not enact, a l ocal policy that would limit or prohibit beekeeping .

In related news, council members on Monday amended the city’s budget to account for $125,000 worth of Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and a $112,802 “high intensity drug trafficking area” grant for the Grand Forks Narcotics Task Force from the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

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Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

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