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Minnesota town ponders ban on chickens after a dispute between neighbors

NEW BRIGHTON, Minn. -- At a time when some cities are trying to find ways to accommodate chickens, New Brighton is considering banning fowl after more than a year of discussion over what has become an increasingly polarizing issue in the suburban...

Kristie Kellis feeds tomatoes to chickens, ducks, turkeys and quails at Lost Boys Acre urban farm in New Brighton Wednesday August 28, 2013. Sparked by a debate between neighbors, the farm is at the center of a community-wide conversation on urban farming. The house in the background, right, complained about the farm. (Pioneer Press: Jean Pieri)



NEW BRIGHTON, Minn. -- At a time when some cities are trying to find ways to accommodate chickens, New Brighton is considering banning fowl after more than a year of discussion over what has become an increasingly polarizing issue in the suburban community.

The city’s mayor, Dave Jacobsen, made a motion to ban the domesticated birds at a heated and packed public hearing on urban farming May 12.

The city council will have an opportunity to vote on the proposal Tuesday.


“Temporarily, I am saying put a ban and let the state and the (federal government) tell us what is enforceable and what isn’t. … For those people who have had a lifetime of raising chickens, do I feel sorry for them? Yes, I do,” Jacobsen said after making the unexpected motion. “But it is for the greater good of our community. We have to end this divisiveness, this bitterness, this political bickering … We need a resolution.”

New Brighton has been battling with how and if to regulate keeping and raising fowl since an ongoing dispute between two neighbors spilled over into City Hall nearly five years ago.

On one side are Kristie Kellis and her housemates, who keep and raise laying hens, quail and a rooster outside their home on a half-acre of land on Forest Dale Road. Neighbor Bob Parrot and his wife have said the operation is noisy, odorous and affects their quality of life.

The conflict led to several complaints filed with city staff and police, and allies have lined up on either side, including other chicken-owners who say the practice is clean, environmentally sound and beneficial to neighborhoods and others who say chickens belong on rural farms, not city blocks.

With no current ordinance regulating urban farming, staff have been limited in their ability to mitigate concerns on either side of the debate, which has picked up steam locally and nationally in recent years with the growth of the local food movement.

To head off problems, the city convened a citizen task force in the fall of 2013 to study the issue and ultimately make recommendations to the city council on how to proceed.

The suggestions - presented to the city council last May - included restricting fowl to between eight and 24 birds per property based on lot size, implementing coop size and cleanliness standards and restraining birds to an owner’s property.

Seemingly concerned the restrictions didn’t go far enough, the city council directed staff to draft an ordinance that capped chickens at 18 per property, again depending on lot size. Most city lots could have only up to six chickens.


The May 12 hearing was aimed at eliciting public feedback on the latest draft. Many of the 200 residents who turned out reportedly decided to attend after reading a flier written by an anonymous source that claimed passage of the ordinance would lead to a decline in property values, the spread of disease and an array of nuisance issues.

Some didn’t know chicken ownership was unregulated in the city and that the ordinance would only restrict it. About 30 households in the 22,000-person city have chickens.

“I believe that having chickens in New Brighton is just a bad idea, and I don’t see any positives to bringing it,” said Bruce Knight, a resident who spoke at the meeting. “It’s not about liberty and it’s not about freedom and it’s not about discrimination, it’s just about no upside and many downsides.”

Knight listed aesthetics, health and safety and common sense among the downsides.

Speaking after the meeting, Jesse Fredrickson said he was shocked at the mayor’s ban proposal, particularly after all the hard work of the citizen-appointed task force. He, his wife and their two young boys have about five laying hens that they view as family pets.

“I just can’t believe this is being allowed to rip our community apart … Urban farming, when done appropriately … brings people together. … I’ve had contact with neighbors I would have never met otherwise … And our kids love our chickens … I can’t look my son in the eye and tell him we have to kill them,” Fredrickson said.

Cities across the metro have approached chicken-keeping differently.

Blaine, White Bear Lake, Mounds View and Coon Rapids currently ban them, but discussions are underway in three of the four cities to explore changes. Shoreview, Maplewood, Gem Lake, St. Paul and Minneapolis all allow fowl, with restrictions. Roseville has no restrictions.


The potential ban will come before the New Brighton City Council Tuesday. Council members could decide to vote on it or direct staff to draft another ordinance to regulate the practice instead.

“They have many choices,” said city clerk Terri Haarstad.


The Pioneer Press is a media partner of Forum News Service.


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