No undue clucking: Chickens now allowed in Oak Park Heights

Gazette Photos by Avery Cropp  Four chickens sit in a coop in the backyard of Tisha Palmer's Stillwater home recently. Palmer said her family consider the chickens as pets, but she cautions that raising the birds can be expensive. Palmer recently convinced the Stillwater City Council to approve an ordinance allowing residents to keep chickens.
Oak Park Heights now allows the keeping of chickens. (Gazette file photo)

Following the example of Stillwater and other cities in the area, Oak Park Heights will allow residents to keep chickens.

For a $5 per year permitting fee, residents may keep up to four chickens but no roosters.

Unlike Stillwater, Oak Park Heights will not allow the keeping of bees. Along with the changes allowing chickens, the city council expressly prohibited beekeeping in city limits.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the decision to allow chickens is how easily it won approval. Other cities throughout the metro have considered similar measures, but the issue has often become a drawn-out debate.

In a 3-2 vote, the Stillwater City Council voted to allow chickens in October 2012. Lake Elmo’s council unanimously approved the keeping of chickens last month, but only after much discussion and many changes by the planning commission and city council.

The Oak Park Heights City Council unanimously approved its ordinance change March 11 without much discussion. Nobody squawked. No one called for a year-long study. Council members had discussed the issue at a work session earlier in the year and asked staff to craft an amendment to the city code.

The council made only one change to the staff’s proposal. Originally the proposed permit fee was $25.

“It certainly doesn’t cover the city’s costs or inspections, but it establishes a process,” City Administrator Eric Johnson said. “It could be more. It could be less.”

Councilmember Mark Swenson asked to cut it to $5.

In addition to submitting to annual inspections, those who wish to keep chickens must secure them in a roofed coop and a pen with protective overhead netting. They may not slaughter or sell chickens within city limits.

Although there is no requirement to have a certain size lot, chickens are not allowed on properties with three or more dwellings. Coops and shelters must be in the backyard and may not be closer than 20 feet to any property line.

Some cities require neighbors to be notified or even approve the keeping of fowl. Oak Park Heights requires neither. A memo from city staff noted that neighbors might object to chickens for reasons not related to the birds.

Overall, Oak Park Heights seems to be taking a try-it-and-see approach using guidelines crafted by other communities.

“At this point it doesn’t seem like it would be an immediate problem to give it a whirl,” Johnson said.

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