3 hens, no roosters: Backyard chicken debate continues

News-DemocratFebruary 5, 2014 

Belleville resident Alex Enyart, who wants the city to allow residents to raise chickens, held up a bottle of Sriracha hot sauce and a shot glass during a public meeting Wednesday to address opponents' concerns.

A dog owner deals with about 12 ounces of dog waste a day whereas a chicken produces about a shot glass worth of waste per day, Enyart said.

Enyart is gathering signatures to petition the city to allow up to three hens -- not roosters -- per household to be kept in fully enclosed shelters with open-air access.

Residents want to raise chickens to get fresh, cruelty-free, organic eggs, Enyart said, and passing such an ordinance might attract younger residents to Belleville.

The aldermanic committee tabled the issue until its next meeting in March after Ward 2 Alderwoman Janet Schmidt asked for more time to gather signatures. Enyart's petition has 50 signatures so far.

Schmidt also said she'd come back with a more detailed proposal, possibly with a sunset clause, to address some residents' concerns over odor, noise and sanitation.

About an equal number of residents for and against the proposal attended the Public Health and Housing Committee at City Hall.

Mike Buettner, of Belleville, is one of the residents opposed to the idea. He said he just finished a three-year legal battle with a neighbor involving birds and noise.

Buettner asked the city to consider these aspects before allowing residents to raise chickens:

* What will happen to the hens when they no longer produce eggs anymore? Do they become pets or will residents be allowed to slaughter them?

* How close should a resident's chicken coop be allowed to get to a neighbor's property line?

* Does the city's Housing Department have the staff to regulate the ordinance and respond to complaints?

* Will the city require a permit or fee for keeping hens? Will the hens have to be registered like cats and dogs in case they get loose?

Another Belleville resident, Scott Zipfel, said he raised chickens at home until a neighbor reported him. Zipfel said his neighbors would not have known about the hens because they weren't noisy or smelly had he not shared his eggs with them.

Zipfel kept three hens in a coop with wheels that was about 4-feet-by-8-feet-by-6-feet. Food for the hens cost $20 per month and their waste, after a year, was used as fertilizer in his garden.

Some opponents were not convinced that all residents would care for their hens as Zipfel did. Supporters, however, said that anyone investing money in raising chickens will care enough to do so in a humane and healthy way.

Joy Schreiber, a Belleville Township trustee, suggested granting variances to those who could prove they have a coop and could responsibly care for the hens.

Ward 6 Alderman Bob White asked how allowing residents to raise hens within city limits will affect property values and home sales. He also said he would like feedback from the city's Housing and Police departments on how the city might be affected.

When Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden said his major concern is that chickens will attract foxes and coyotes and be a threat in neighborhoods, a resident responded by saying those predators already roam in the city.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 618-239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BNDJLee.

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