Revised Grand Forks bird law would limit chickens, require more neighbors’ permission

Grand Forks city leaders stepped away from an outright ban on residential chickens, but on Monday they considered changes to city policy that could, in effect, require would-be chicken owners to get permission from more of their neighbors and limit the number of chickens they could own to six.

Stella, Mother Clucker, and Lena roam the Willardson family's Grand Forks back yard on Thursday, July 1. Joe Bowen/Grand Forks Herald

Grand Forks officials are set to put a six-bird limit on residential chickens and require the chickens’ owners to get more neighbors to sign off on the birds.

City Council members voted 6-1 on Monday to limit residents to 12 total birds, six of which could be chickens, and require people who ask for a city permit to keep the birds to get written permission from every property owner within 65 feet. The vote is the first of two needed to make the change. Council members are set to hold a second, and final, vote at their meeting on Monday, Aug. 2.

Currently, city code requires chicken owners to get written permission from everyone who lives within 75 feet of the birds’ coop. The changes floated this week would reduce that figure by 10 feet but would, nonetheless, generally mean residents would need to get permission from more of their neighbors because the city would measure from the chicken owner’s property line, rather than from the coop, and because they’d need to get the go-ahead from everyone who owned property within that zone, rather than everyone who lives in a house within it.

“What I would like to see is two neighbors on each side and behind, for example, if you have adjoining property,” Council President Dana Sande said. “In my opinion, you should go two homes in all directions.”

City administrators initially recommended a 60-foot distance. Sande suggested a 150-foot span, but ultimately agreed to the 65-foot distance after council member Katie Dachtler noted that 150 feet would encompass a considerable number of neighbors in her ward in northern Grand Forks.


The lone “nay” vote on Monday was from Bret Weber, who worries that a 65-foot distance would encompass people who live across the street from a would-be chicken owner.

“I think that we should be checking out all the neighbors in the backyard where the chickens are,” Weber said. “I don’t think people across the street -- I just don’t think that’s part of it.”

Chicken limits

The six-chicken limit, which city administrators also recommended, stayed more or less intact, but council members whittled the limit on total birds down to 12 from a recommended 15.

“You could have six chickens and another nine pigeons or doves, for a total of 15, but yet we can only have six cats and dogs with no more than, I believe, three dogs and three cats,” council member Danny Weigel said. “To me that almost doesn’t make sense.”

Sande initially asked for a 10-bird limit, four of which could be chickens.

City code allows residents to keep any number of chickens if they get a permit from Grand Forks Public Health for the birds. There’s no spelled-out upper limit, but health department administrators could refuse to issue a permit if they feel a resident wants to keep an unreasonable number of the birds.


The tentative changes to the city’s bird laws came after Sande proposed banning residential chickens outright late last month. The birds, he argued, are farm animals that don’t belong in a city, they create a noise issue because dogs bark at them, and they’re a means by which neighbors can disagree with one another.

The chicken ban was shot down earlier this month when no council member seconded Sande’s motion to put it to a vote. Sande proposed the ban, he said, after hearing complaints, which he declined to detail to the Herald, about chickens owned by a resident of his ward in southern Grand Forks.

Those chickens, presumably, are owned by Jacob Willardson , a 12-year-old who lives in Sande’s ward near King’s Walk golf course. When Sande first proposed the ban, Willardson was the only Grand Forks resident with a permit to keep chickens, but other residents have since applied for one, indicating that at least a few residents here have been keeping the birds illegally.

“Contrary to popular opinion, I am not a chicken hater,” Sande said as a few council members chuckled. “I do like chicken wings. I like chicken breast as well.”

Willardson got permission from the people who live immediately east and west of his home, and he has a permit to keep six of the birds that lasts through the end of 2021. He adopted four more chicks in June, which puts him in excess of the city permit. Willardson’s mom, Sara Willardson, said they plan to give the chicks away once they’ve grown.

Sara Willardson wasn’t sure, but guessed that changing city code to, in effect, require more neighbors’ written permission would probably encompass the person -- or, possibly, one of the people -- she suspects complained to Sande.

“Are they going to start doing this for all animals?” Willardson asked rhetorically in a text message exchange with the Herald. “Why can I decide if my neighbor has chickens, but not if they have a dog. A dog can be a lot more disturbing.”


2022 budget, new recycling contract

In related news, council members:

  • Took a look at Mayor Brandon Bochenski’s complete 2022 budget proposal, which would hike city spending by about 21.3% to approximately $216 million. Most of that increase comes from a glut of infrastructure spending, including $2.15 million for upgrades at Grand Forks City Hall and $7.64 million for utility work that would aim to lessen a series of approved hikes to city wastewater fees . Spending in the city’s general fund would increase by about 6% to $43.4 million.
  • Approved a new recycling contract with Texas-based Waste Management that would keep Grand Forks’ recycling services more or less the same as they are now . Sande suggested city staff take a look at a competing proposal from Grand Forks-based Countrywide Sanitation that would have the city use its existing garbage trucks to haul recyclable waste to a company-owned facility in exchange for a monthly fee. The city and company would then split the profits from the sale of the recyclables.
Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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