The keeping of chickens, particularly laying hens only, within the city of Fountain is back at the forefront again after Councilor Colleen Fohrenbacher respectfully asked her fellow council members to consider it at the November 3 meeting. “I am not asking for a vote. I would just like to talk about it,” she noted.
The suggestion first came up in May 2018 when resident Emily Root made a proposal to the council requesting her family be allowed to keep 10 hens in a combination coop and greenhouse in their backyard. At the time, she presented plans for a 10×15-foot structure, with a concrete floor, attached wire enclosure, and sealed feed supply area. Citing the benefits of keeping chickens, she noted a willingness to do anything to make it successful including offering to undergo licensing, a probationary period, a three-strikes or penalty policy, or compliance with any other city rules related to the ordinance. At the time, the council did not have further questions for Root and noted no major objection
A month later, she returned to the council and was surprised at the statement by then Mayor Richard Kujath to forgo any further discussion on the matter. She returned to the council in July 2018 with a petition from residents and support from others requesting the topic be revisited. The council then approved a motion to hold a public meeting. The topic was discussed by Planning and Zoning, as well as legal counsel in August 2018. At the August council meeting, the council rescinded the motion from the July meeting to hold a public meeting. There was some question and confusion as to why and then City Clerk Rhonda Flattum noted the meeting was to be held on the assumption that a Conditional Use Permit would be applied for, despite council meeting minutes not indicating thus.
The council then motioned to have the topic put to a vote in the November 2018 election. At the time, City Attorney Dwight Luhmann recommended against the decision, instead recommending the issue go back to Planning and Zoning for review suggesting the board put together a potential Chicken Ordinance and bring a recommendation back to the council. The decision to put it on the ballot was also rescinded, at the September meeting, after the council learned that it was not allowed per state statute. There was no further discussion on the topic until February of the following year. Schott indicated at the time that Planning and Zoning had recommended to uphold the city ordinance prohibiting the keeping of chickens.
“I know this was super contentious a few years ago,” added Fohrenbacher. “I would appreciate it if you would look it over and consider it.”
Fohrenbacher presented her recent research of ordinances in other municipalities, estimates of how an ordinance could impact Fountain, and facts to counter the four main reasons the council was opposed to an ordinance in 2018.
Lanesboro, Chatfield, and St. Charles were all contacted by Fohrenbacher and have an active ordinance allowing for the keeping of chickens, as do the cities of Spring Valley, Harmony, Whalan, Rushford, Rushford Village, and Peterson. A permit from the city is generally required and in the three that were contacted, each has less than 1% of the population applying for permitting in the five to 10 years since they approved their ordinance. “Fountain has 345 people. Here, we’d be talking about three people,” noted Fohrenbacher. “Really, you can make the ordinance really clear.”
“We allowed it before and it got out of hand,” said Schott. The city previously had all types of livestock in town, but eventually prohibited it. There hasn’t been any in the city in over a decade, according to the mayor.
Fohrenbacher cited four reasons the council opposed a chicken ordinance last time and rebuttals for each. “Reason one, chickens are a gateway animal,” she began. “It’s the same as when people ask us to move speed bumps. We say no. To me, this is not a logical argument. We say no all the time. Reason two, noise. We can allow a small number of hens only. They’re quieter than dogs, the concerts that occur in town, and ATVs that are running around in the streets. Reason three, the smell. This is not an issue with a small number. Reason four, city follow-up. I’m willing to do that. I’ll visit people’s houses, issue permits, and if things come up, I’ll be the chicken police.”
“I don’t see this being something everyone decides to do,” she continued, “It seems like such a minor issue that got blown up, but it shouldn’t be.” The council opted to table the topic until the next meeting.
The next regularly scheduled meeting is Wednesday, December 1, at 7 p.m., at city hall. The meeting is open to the public.