Saturday, July 18, 2009

Monona's Chicken Fight With City Hall

The following article in the Wisconsin State Journal appeared on Friday, July 17th.

Monona's chicken ordinance continues to generate controversy

In January, when a proposal to allow Monona residents to keep chickens was introduced, the Munson family was totally on board with the idea. After all, they already owned several hens.

But now that two city commissions have voted against the proposed ordinance, which is expected to go before the City Council Monday, they just want the whole issue to disappear.

“We had no idea that it was even controversial,” said Scott Munson, who worries about what may happen to his chickens if the plan fails next week. Although he’s confident no “chicken Gestapo” will come knocking, he now believes the city’s don’t ask, don’t tell policy may be the way to go.

Monona Ald. Doug Wood introduced the proposed zoning change in January. It would allow single and two-family households to buy a permit to keep up to five hens — but no roosters.

Owners would be required to keep the hens in secure and clean housing at least 20 feet from neighboring residences and would not be allowed to slaughter the animals outside.

That’s not a problem, Munson said.

“No one really knows that we have chickens unless we tell them,” he said, adding the chickens are quiet, unobtrusive and “no odor comes from the coop.”

Madison approved a similar law in 2004.

But Monona’s Public Safety Commission unanimously voted against the proposal, July 1, citing enforcement as the main reason. The Plan Commission voted 3 to 2 against it June 22, mainly because the agricultural usage was not consistent with residents’ expectations in an urban setting like Monona, said Paul Kachelmeier, Monona’s planning and community development coordinator.

Mayor Robb Kahl, who has been against the zoning change from the beginning, agrees.

Kahl said residents have told him, “If I wanted to be out in an area where things like chickens were allowed. . .I would have moved to a more rural area.”

But Wood said the effort to allow chickens in the city goes beyond reducing energy associated with transporting food and having fresh eggs — it’s also about individual property rights.

Some people have said having chickens is an “East Side of Madison idea,” and they want Monona to be different, Wood said.

“That’s not really good enough when you’re telling someone how to use their private property,” he said. “You need to have some reason. I think chickens would probably be less of an imposition on your neighbors than a lot of things.”

Supporters say some have also expressed fears that allowing chickens would make the city look tacky.

“There’s this mindset of this being something low class, that if we allow chickens that pretty soon cars will sprout up on blocks,” said Heather Gates, executive director of The Natural Step Monona, a local organization working toward an environmentally, economically and socially sustainable community.

“It’s not very forward thinking,” she said. “We’re going to be looking for ways to have our food sources. . .be more local.”

Munson said he checked Monona’s codes when his family got their chickens in September and didn’t think they were breaking any laws.

The chickens are part of the family’s sustainable lifestyle, which includes a vegetable garden that occasionally gets help from a chicken eating Japanese lady beetles and slugs. The chicken manure is composted and used as fertilizer.

“It all really works well together as a system,” he said.

If you read the comments section of this article, you will see a great debate of how different minds think alike.

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