Lake Elmo allows chickens and bees: Council members disagreed on slaughtering and neighbor input

Lake Elmo residents with lots of at least a half acre will be allowed to keep chickens under an amended ordinance approved Feb. 18. They will be required to keep the birds from roaming free.
Lake Elmo residents with lots of at least a half acre will be allowed to keep chickens under an amended ordinance approved Feb. 18. They will be required to keep the birds from roaming free.

Lake Elmo is trying something new. It’s lifting the ban on keeping of livestock — including bees and chickens — on lots smaller than 10 acres.

Residents will now be allowed to keep chickens on lots of half an acre or more and bees on lots of at least three quarters of an acre. They will also be allowed to keep other livestock on lots of at least 5 acres.

Under the ordinance residents may keep chickens and bees on lots of less than 5 acres by permit, which costs $25 for two years. Those who wish to keep bees must prove they have proper training.

After extensive staff research and three planning commission discussions, the city council approved changes Feb. 18 that are less restrictive than those recommended by the planning commission. The new ordinance is still more restrictive than some of the council members wished, but most seemed to take try-it-and-see attitude, with the assumption that the city can adjust the ordinance as needed in the future.

“This is going to be a large change for Lake Elmo,” City Clerk Adam Bell told the council, noting that the staff’s recommendation included several changes based on planning commission feedback.

More cities in the metro, including Minneapolis and St. Paul, have begun allowing residents to keep chickens and bees in the past several years, though some have rejected the idea.

“There’s a growing trend of keeping these animals in your backyard,” Ball said.

City staff modeled their proposal for Lake Elmo’s ordinance after city code in Stillwater and Cottage Grove, which Bell said have ordinances typical of the metro area.

Chickens slaughtering causes a flap

Ball told the council that chickens are relatively easy to keep and should not be a nuisance under the proposed ordinance.

“There’s no roosters, and there’s no crowing hens,” Ball said.

He said chickens will not be allowed to roam free.

Residents with 0.5-0.99 acre will be allowed up to four chickens, and the number allowed will increases by two for every half-acre added, up to 5 acres. This aligns with the original staff recommendation, but is higher than the planning commission’s recommendation, which would have allowed two chickens for 0.5-0.99 acre and increased from there.

The revised code also requires notification of all neighbors within 150 feet of the property line of someone seeking a permit to keep chickens. But the council eliminated a provision that would have triggered a hearing before the council if a neighbor protested.

Although the council unanimously approved the final ordinance council members Anne Smith and Mike Reeves disagreed with the majority on the issue of butchering chickens.

The original proposal prohibited the butchering of chickens in public view.

Mayor Mike Pearson asked to remove that restriction, saying that it would be difficult to enforce and that it seemed silly when talking about people raising food at home, because that’s the reality of what happens.

Smith seemed to have strong feelings about the issue.

“I don’t want kids seeing people butchering their chicken,” she said.

Reeves agreed with her.

City Administrator Dean Zuleger told the council that some members of the community use chickens in religious ceremonies and might butcher chickens in public view, and not for meat.

Bell told the council that most other cities that regulate the butchering of chickens prohibit it entirely, and staff felt that prohibiting it in public view was a compromise. But he also said homeowners associations can also make rules about the issue, so it may not be a problem the city needs to worry about.

In a 3-2 vote with Smith and Reeves dissenting, the council removed the restrictions on butchering from the proposed ordinance.

Bees trigger sting concerns

0221lake elmo livestock-beesWebThe city council unanimously agreed to set the minimum amount of land for keeping bees at three quarters of an acre. That’s less than the 1 acre recommended by the planning commission but more than the half acre initially recommended by staff.

One of the drivers behind the decision was that many of the “open space” lots in the city are three quarters of an acre, so setting the standard higher than that would exclude many residents in “open space” developments from keeping bees.

But the council left room for more input from neighbors regarding bees than chickens. When a resident applies for a beekeeping permit, notice will be sent to all neighbors within 150 feet of the property line. If a neighbor protests within 10 days, the issue will go to a hearing before the city council.

Pearson wanted to eliminate the option for protest regarding bees, as the council had done for chickens, and Councilmember Justin Bloyer agreed. But Smith and Reeves objected.

Much of the discussion around keeping bees centered on concerns about the potential for people to be stung.

Bell told the council that it isn’t as significant an issue as many think, because honeybees are not aggressive.

“Unless you disturb the hive or disturb them while they’re gathering nectar and pollen, you’re no more likely to be stung if there’s a hive 10 miles away or 50 feet away,” he said.

Nevertheless, there was concern about neighbors who might be allergic to bee stings.

“Because of the property of a sting, I think they should be able to protest it,” Reeves said.

Councilmember Wally Nelson asked if the city could remove the provision requiring an automatic hearing before the council but reserve the right to hold a hearing if deemed appropriate.

Zuleger said that was an option.

“If you don’t want to provide for council review or challenge in every case, as an alternative, what you could say is, ‘Should council determine that public health, safety or welfare is potentially implicated, the council reserves the right to hold a review hearing on the issuance of a permit,” he said, adding it might be a good idea to reserve the right of review.

In response, Pearson withdrew his suggestion, saying that “for all intents and purposes,” the option outlined by Zuleger was the same as leaving the provision as it stood.

Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]