Belding City Council chickens out on fowl ordinance

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 1:15 pm on Friday, January 04, 2013

BELDING — After months of deliberation during several Belding Planning Commission meetings, it appears the subject on the keeping of urban chickens within city limits is over.

Belding City Council members voted down an ordinance amendment Wednesday evening that would have allowed chickens in residentially zoned districts.

In a 4-1 vote against the amendment, with Councilman Joe Feuerstein voting in favor, the keeping of chickens in Belding will continue to be illegal within city limits.

The issue first arose when Belding residents Jonathon Rivera and Jon McGowan, who own chickens on their respective properties within the city limits, became involved at an Aug. 28 Planning Commission meeting when the issue was presented in a memo to members of the commission.

Over the past few months, an amendment to the zoning ordinance was drafted and amended further for the keeping of two urban chickens on single-family residential district properties on a minimum lot size of 8,450 square feet.

Lots greater than 21,000 square feet would be permitted to have four chickens on the property and lots greater than 43,560 square feet would  be permitted up to eight chickens.

However, after discussion by the council Wednesday night, a consensus was reached that, in its current form, the amended ordinance should not pass as written.

Planning Commission Chairperson Gary Knowlton gave several reasons against the amended ordinance, including the small size of lots and lack of enforcement of the ordinance.

“The way this is written now, it is a very liberal ordinance,” Knowlton said. “As I compare it to other ordinances in other communities, this would allow chickens on basically all single family residential lots. Literally, everybody in the city of Belding would be able to have chickens.”

According to Interim City Manager Sam Andres, residents who desired to keep chickens would have had to receive a Belding Urban Chicken Permit.

But Knowlton said he believed issues would arise between neighbors who do not agree with one another over the keeping of chickens.

“Many of the issues you see in other cities with this are squabbles between neighbors, especially if there isn’t good enforcement.” he said. “We presently have a part time zoning enforcement officer. Are we going to add to the tasks and duties that this person already has? I think this would certainly add to the demands of that particular job.”

During council comment, most members agreed with Knowlton’s assessment.

“A couple of good points were made,” Councilman Mike Scheid said. “I don’t really want to live next to chickens either. I tend to agree that it should be a bigger lot size. I can see a lot of havoc with the chickens and other animals, such as cats and dogs.”

Councilwoman Andrea Belding said her biggest concern was with the size of the lots, stating she believes the ordinance, as written, would have allowed for too many residences within Belding to have chickens.

“If we’re going to allow this, we need to only allow it on the larger lots,” Belding said. “This ordinance doesn’t address how chicken coops are handled as accessory structures, and it definitely needs to.”

Belding said she doesn’t believe the city has the manpower to handle the issues that could develop with the way the ordinance was written in its current state and suggested it be returned to the Planning Commission and amended further.

“That’s a huge issue right off the bat … and enforcing this is going to be an absolute nightmare,” she said. “I just don’t think we are prepared to deal with this yet. I would like to see it go back (to the planning commission). I don’t think it’s something we need to completely shut down.”

Councilman Tom Jones said his biggest concern is what the allowance of chickens within the city limits could potentially lead to with other livestock animals.

“I’m not necessarily in favor of (the ordinance), but part of my concern is, today it’s chickens, tomorrow my neighbor says potbelly pigs — I don’t know where this would stop,” he said. “Unless we see a big outcry from the community here in Belding that we need chickens, I’m not in favor of it.”

Feuerstein, the lone council member in favor of approving the ordinance, said he believes everyone in the city should have an equal chance to keep chickens on their property.

“In the late 1940s, there were more chickens in this town than there were people,” he said. “It’s one of the things that was in this town for a long time and it seems in the years they were here, we didn’t lose people. I’m in favor of the chickens, and as far as lot size, I think everyone should have an equal chance to have chickens.”

As for the enforcement of the ordinance, Feuerstein said he would like to see the city adopt a full-time code enforcement official, rather than operate with two part-time code enforcement positions split between the city fire and police departments, as it does now.

Mayor Ron Gunderson said without better enforcement he didn’t feel comfortable accepting the ordinance as written.

“We don’t want to get ourselves into a situation that we can’t control, or that we have the residents upset about,” he said. “It’s a huge issue not having one code enforcement person. We’re voting on something that would put more stress on each department that shouldn’t have anything to do with it. I think the way it is set up now, there are just too many gray areas right now.”

With the denial of the ordinance, the keeping of chickens within the city limits of Belding will continue to be illegal, however, council members stressed that it could be looked at again in the future if it is revised once again by the Planning Commission.

In other matters, council members approved a zoning ordinance making requirements for secondary front yards more flexible.

According to Andres, the amendment includes fencing, general provisions and storage of recreation equipment and residential structures.

The motion was approved unanimously.

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