Chickens in town?

Many communities allow it, but in Grand Forks, it’s become a debate after City Council President Dana Sande last week suggested changing city code to prohibit residents from keeping chickens within city limits.

Sande’s argument is twofold: Chickens are farm animals and thus shouldn’t be allowed to be kept in the city, and they also can potentially create noise issues if other animals are agitated by their presence.

Sande’s hesitation isn’t irrational. After all, a small flock of chickens kept in town may not seem like a big deal, but it’s easy to accept the idea when it’s not your neighbors that have them.

At present, it’s legal to keep chickens within Grand Forks city limits. The law allows it if staff at Grand Forks Public Health give approval, and also so long as the coop is at least 75 feet away from neighboring homes. If the coop is closer than that, the chickens’ owners must receive written approval from each neighbor within that distance. We don’t know what happens to the approval process if a new neighbor moves in.

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Roosters, by the way, aren’t allowed. But while it’s legal it doesn’t necessarily mean all neighbors are thrilled with the idea. Sande said he has received complaints, so he raised the issue at a City Council meeting last week.

This isn’t unique. Earlier this spring, the Herald followed a similar debate in the small North Dakota community of Cando, where the City Council ultimately denied a request by a resident to change city law so she could keep chickens in her yard.

A woman wanted a flock of 10 or fewer birds so her children could learn where food comes from while also giving them a task to teach responsibility. Cando’s mayor, Rollie Bjornstad, believed the chickens would attract vermin and coyotes and he said the majority of the people he talked to were against allowing chickens in town.

In 2014, Park River, N.D., held a communitywide vote on the issue and decided, via 265-159 vote, to allow residents to keep up to eight hens.

In 2019, the issue came before the City Council in Detroit Lakes, Minn. Although some were concerned about potential ill effects of keeping chickens, the council gave its approval. There, only family residential homes on a lot larger than 7,500 square feet qualify for the chicken permit.

A basic search of the internet shows it’s an issue arising throughout the nation, with many towns allowing the practice, but also showing it’s controversial nonetheless.

Apparently, some people in Grand Forks are complaining. There’s nothing wrong with bringing this to the attention of the council and considering the next steps. The City Council is expected to discuss it Tuesday evening, with a decision possibly coming next week.

It’s easy to condone a good family’s interest in raising poultry. Showing such support is typical of North Dakota Nice, and the family in question probably will do well with upkeep and care.

But behind the scenes, it’s our guess that many people wouldn’t be as accepting if they have less careful neighbors, or if an unkempt chicken coop is visible from their deck in the adjacent backyard.