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Complaints filed over chickens

FARGO, N.D. -- Some residents in Fargo, N.D., have embraced the "urban chicken" movement, hosting hens in their backyards, enjoying the fresh eggs for breakfast and the opportunity to teach their children about agriculture.

FARGO, N.D. -- Some residents in Fargo, N.D., have embraced the "urban chicken" movement, hosting hens in their backyards, enjoying the fresh eggs for breakfast and the opportunity to teach their children about agriculture.

Still, others have cried foul to the city about the birds, leading city staffers to ask: What is the city's policy anyway?

Fargo city commissioners agreed Sept. 15 to further study whether they want chickens in residential areas and attempt to clarify the city's "urban chicken" laws.

Several Fargo residents spoke at the commission meeting, all of them urging commissioners to continue allowing the birds, despite commonly held concerns that chickens in the city limits are smelly and loud.

"If it's a matter of noise, then I'd like to bring up my neighbor's Pomeranians," joked Cole Hooey, who said he and his wife were considering raising chickens at their north Fargo home.

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Neighboring Moorhead, Minn., and West Fargo, N.D., ban the birds, despite recent pushes from residents who want to have chickens. But many nearby cities -- like Minneapolis, St. Paul and Fergus Falls, Minn. -- allow homeowners to have chickens.

Most cities allow only a small number of hens, for egg production, and ban roosters because of morning crowing.

Fargo municipal code now allows chickens in residential areas, as long as the owner has approval from nearby neighbors.

But Planning Director Jim Gilmour said the city's Land Development Code bars "animal confinement," including chickens, except in agriculturally zoned districts.

He said the municipal code allowing chickens was likely written before 1952 when the government encouraged people to garden at home to support World War II efforts. Gilmour asked the commission to clarify the city's stance and laws.

"I'll admit they didn't teach me anything in planning school about chickens," Gilmour said. "But my wife grew up on a farm, and she told me she doesn't want any chickens next door, for what it's worth."

Some commissioners seemed to agree with Gilmour. Commissioner Melissa Sobolik said she also raised chickens growing up.

"So I can tell you even the hens are not quiet," she said. "They will cluck at all hours."

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Commissioner Dave Piepkorn said larger cities probably allow chickens because they are urbanized. Fargo, he pointed out, is smaller and is surrounded by agriculture.

"If you want to have a farm, you can live on a farm," Piepkorn said of Fargo residents who want chickens in the city.

Still, Piepkorn and Sobolik agreed it is a topic worth studying. Sobolik asked the public health department to look into it and report back to the commission.

"From a health standpoint, there's no health reason why you can't have chickens," said Kim Lipetzky, a nutritionist for Fargo Cass Public Health.

Deputy Mayor Tim Mahoney pointed out that both Moorhead and West Fargo ban the birds in city limits.

"But we lead," Commissioner Mike Williams said in response. "We like to lead."

That's a sentiment north Fargo resident Hooey would agree with.

"I believe that Fargo needs to set a precedent for forwardness and to be a trendsetter along with a lot of other major cities that currently allow chickens," Hooey said. "This allows us to establish ourselves as forward thinkers with urban agriculture."

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Another north Fargo resident, Diane Davies-Luger, said when she first got chickens about 2ยฝ years ago, she wasn't sure she would enjoy it.

Now she has four hens and her neighbors, she said, wouldn't even know the birds were there if she hadn't told them.

"They are one of the nicest pets I didn't know I wanted," she said.

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