City Council votes to allow regulated backyard chickens

After years of debate, the City Council has voted to allow some Kenosha residents to own a small number of regulated backyard chickens.

The measure passed on a 10-7 vote Monday night in Council Chambers before a crowded gallery of chicken enthusiasts holding signage reading “Don’t Be A Chicken” and squeaky rubber chickens.

The ordinance was sponsored by Ald. Brandi Feree and co-sponsored by Alds. Rollin Pizzala, Kelly MacKay, David Mau and Bill Siel.

“I’d like to thank to thank every citizen, city employee, alderperson who contributed to the approval of this proposal,” Feree said, adding that it underwent many revisions.

“I believe that the language in front of you will allow for citizens to keep backyard chickens in a safe manner. In my research, I made a phone call up to the City of Racine. They have had their urban chickens ordinance in place since 2015 and I was advised at the time of our conversation that they believed they had 11 or so permits. It wasn’t considered a burden and it was going well.”

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Feree said the ordinance may even deter some from owning backyard chickens because of the rules, regulations, costs and work involved.

Before the vote, MacKay asked the council not to prohibit eligible city residents from pursuing their passions.

“Obviously, I do give a cluck,” MacKay said. “Give people the right, give them the freedom to choose to have chickens. … Let them have the freedom to do what their passions are. Obviously, this is a very niche passion, the people who are going to do it are going to invest in it and do it right.”

Ald. Dominic Ruffalo was deeply opposed to the ordinance.

Amid the pandemic, more Americans are adding something new to their backyards: chickens.

“Chickens to me are farm animals, I’m sorry. I think they belong on a farm,” Ruffalo said. Ruffalo also said he fears such fowl could put the public at risk of bird flu.

“My constituents don’t want this and I don’t want this in the 16th District,” he said. “I’m a no vote. I told the sponsor I was a no vote in the beginning. She did a really good job; I congratulate her on her hard work and effort and her passion on this. But I’m as passionate against it as she is for it.”

Alds. Eric Haugaard, Holly Kangas, Rocco LaMacchia, Daniel Prozanski and Keith Rosenberg also voted against it.

According to the ordinance, no one would be allowed to keep, feed or harbor any chickens without first obtaining approval from the Public Safety and Welfare Committee and City Council. Before a license would be issued for the keeping of such fowl the applicant’s neighbors would also be notified of the request so they can express any concerns to the city.

Any person who keeps chickens would also have to obtain an annual license prior to Jan. 1 of each year, or within 30 days prior to acquiring the chickens. The license year would run from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31. The license fee would be $200.

According to the ordinance, only single-family dwellings would be allowed to have up to four hens. No animal enclosure would be allowed within 25 feet of any residential structure.

According to the proposal, a licensee would also be required to keep his or her premises sanitary to prevent “obnoxious odors from escaping to any private or public property and such as to not jeopardize the public health, safety and welfare.”

The chickens would have to be provided with a covered enclosure having a floor space of at least 16 square feet per chicken. Upon approval and construction of a coup, an enforcing officer will perform a final inspection of the enclosure to ensure compliance. The animals must also be cared for each day.

Licensees would also not be allowed to keep roosters or slaughter any hens. The original ordinance included language to allow ducks but it was removed.

The City Council has the power to revoke a license for anyone in violation of the ordinance or cruelty or mistreatment of chickens.

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