Councilman seeks clarity on chickens

FAIRMONT – Chickens are allowed in Fairmont, thanks to a vote by the City Council earlier this month, but on Monday one councilman expressed concerns that the ordinance lacks clarity.

Terry Anderson believes the council did the right thing allowing chickens within city limits, but he wants to address a few issues he noticed after doing further research.

“I think there needs to be an amendment,” he said.

One concern he voiced Monday was about the setbacks in the ordinance. They call for coops, runs or other structures where poultry will be kept to be 35 feet away from any residence, other than the residence occupied by the chickens’ owners. In Anderson’s opinion, that could be too close for some neighbors, especially if the chicken owners aren’t good about keeping their poultry penned in and cleaning up after them.

And what happens in those cases, he wondered, since the chicken ordinance does not address what is to be done with loose fowl.

Anderson also thinks the ordinance should address smell and the size of coops. Reading up on other cities’ rules, he noticed that prospective chicken owners often are required to talk to their neighbors before buying birds, as well as putting up fences and making sure their coop will allow adequate space per chicken.

The changes he proposed could be done as a “friendly amendment,” he said.

But City Administrator Mike Humpal pointed out that any amendment would require advertisement of a public hearing and legal staff would have to research and rewrite the ordinance before the council could vote on any ordinance change.

Besides, he said, the city has different ordinances that address many of the concerns Anderson brought up Monday. For instance, there are rules in place about animals at large and about cleaning up after pets, as well as rules about accessory structures that would pertain to chicken coops.

To compromise, Humpal proposed putting together a summary of the different ordinances.

“You have to read the code in its entirety,” he said.

That right there is part of the problem, as Anderson sees it. Finding out what is and isn’t allowed shouldn’t require someone to read the entire City Code.

Wes Clerc, acting as mayor pro tem for the evening, said Fairmont’s new ordinance on chickens will be enforced just like other ordinances – based on complaints.

In other business, the council:

o Approved an amendment to City Code to allow conditional use permits for B-3 general businesses in I-1 light industrial districts. An example would be a convenient store in the industrial park near the county fairgrounds. The change is not prompted by a specific project, according to Humpal.

o Set the local board of appeal and equalization meeting for 9 a.m. April 24 at City Hall. The meeting is an opportunity for people to present their case if they have filed an objection with the county assessor about the valuation of their property.