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Erin Mayer's three chickens are fed in the back yard of her north Fargo home on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. Rick Abbott / The Forum

Fargo pecks at policy that would clarify owning backyard chickens

FARGO, N.D. — Clear rules on raising backyard poultry didn't come before the chicken or the egg in Fargo, but city officials may soon change that.

A new draft ordinance intends to clarify Fargo's rules for the hobby some residents have enjoyed under the radar while others firmly oppose as farm life within city limits.

Chickens are addressed in two different chapters within Fargo Municipal Code, both in the health code and land development, but the ordinances conflict, said Kim Lipetzky, a Fargo Cass Public Health nutritionist leading the effort to clear up the city's chicken stance, with the help of several city departments.

The health code allows for the poultry practice, she said, but specific stipulations are vague. The land development code permits chicken keeping as an accessory use but only in the agricultural districts, she said.

The draft ordinance would amend both chapters to clarify that keeping chickens is permitted in residential zones. If approved, the ordinance would limit the number of chickens per household to four and ban roosters. It sets out rules on coop size and design, setbacks and the permit application process.

Lipetzky said the overhaul began was after the city received several complaints this past summer.

The Fargo City Commission will have a first reading on the draft April 10, when they'll hold a public hearing for residents to express support or concerns. The Planning Commission earlier this month recommended approving the new policy.

Too much country?

Fargo residents Virginia and Richard Beaver attended an open house last week at Fargo Cass Public Health to voice concerns about allowing chickens in the city. They both grew up on farms their entire lives and love animals, but they moved to Fargo last summer in a neighborhood where "a barking dog rarely happens," Virginia Beaver said.

If people want chickens, Richard Beaver said they should "move out of city limits."

Despite concerns of smell and noise, people want urban chickens for a number of reasons, including companionship, food system education for children and to be part of the "good food" or local food movement, Lipetzky said.

Erin Mayer started raising chickens in her north Fargo backyard in the summer of 2015, but she said she sent them to a farm over the winter and intends to start back up next spring.

If the ordinance doesn't pass, will Mayer and others be allowed to keep clucking companions?

Lipetzky said it's unlikely to fail but if it did, she's not sure what to do with residents already raising chickens. It's unclear how many Fargo residents already do, she said.

Other efforts failed

Clarifying city code could open the gate to more Fargo residents raising chickens, Lipetzky said, but it's not a guarantee. In Mankato, the city council passed a temporary ordinance in 2010 to allow for backyard chickens, but no residents applied for permits within the two-year pilot program, so the ordinance expired.

In Fergus Falls, residents have been allowed to have up to three chickens within city limits since 2009. There were about 10 active permits in 2013, The Fergus Falls Daily Journal reported, about half as many that were issued in years prior.

In North Dakota, West Fargo, Bismarck and Grand Forks do not permit urban chicken-keeping. In Minnesota, at least 20 cities allow urban chickens, according to a report from Cass Clay Food Systems Initiative, but Moorhead and Dilworth prohibit poultry within city limits.

Attempts to lift chicken bans in Moorhead and West Fargo in recent years have failed.

Moorhead city council member Sara Watson Curry attended the Fargo open house last week and said the council has requested a presentation on backyard chickens and beekeeping at a meeting in May, but there is no planned action at this time.

More information about the draft ordinance for Fargo can be found at letseatlocal.org.

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