RED WING -- “For the 19th year in a row, I don't support this,” City Council member Dean Hove said when discussing whether to allow chickens in Red Wing. Hove’s comment came during Saturday’s joint workshop of the City Council and Planning Advisory Commission.

The possibility of allowing residents to keep a coop of hens -- only hens, roosters would not be allowed -- has come before the City Council a handful of times during Hove’s tenure. Recently, the Planning Advisory Commission has been working to explore the feasibility of allowing fowl in town and what restrictions would need to be in place before the birds moved in.

The commissioners and council members discussed both pros and cons for allowing chickens into Red Wing.

Commissioner Kate Eijnck voiced her support for backyard chickens saying, “I think that other areas very similar to Red Wing and even more urban than Red Wing have done this and done this successfully. And I think we can learn from their mistakes and I think we should persevere through this and we can always start small and if it's working well, you know, loosen it up or allow for more flexibility.”

Concerns

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During the Feb. 6 workshop and previous conversations on the topic, a few concerns have been raised repetitively. The first is that chickens could pit neighbor against neighbor.

“I can see this being a potential neighborhood nightmare. If somebody doesn't get along with their neighbor well, let's just decide to have chickens and really get mad, you know, or, or the opposite I want to have chickens and you got one neighbor that says no I don't want chickens next door to me. This is just, it's bad policy," Hove said.

Council members Evan Brown and Kim Beise both questioned the idea that people would use chickens to annoy their neighbors.

“While I appreciate the Dean thinks that someone might put in chickens to piss off their neighbor, I'm betting that's probably not going to be on the list of things that people do," Brown said. "People don't want to put a bunch of work into something just to piss off their neighbor that directly.”

Commissioner George Hintz raised the possibility of chickens luring more animals into the city. “You are going to be inviting more wildlife into our community. We're having foxes and wolves in our community. I hear it on social media and neighborhoods can hear them at night,” he stated.

Finally, it could be difficult to enforce the rules that would be put in place to ensure both people and birds are kept healthy and safe. Hintz said, “The police department doesn't have time. It's not their responsibility.”

Advantages of chickens

Council President Becky Norton stressed the nutrition that homegrown eggs would provide families. She added that this could be one small step toward a more equitable community. Norton explained, “I think that access to food is something that we need to recognize when we are trying to address some of the disparities in our communities. This is one of the ways that we can do it, it's a small way, but it is definitely a value in that.”

A variety of advantages for allowing chickens have been discussed in Red Wing meetings and workshops. And, as urban chickens become more popular, a simple Google search can provide pages of why people believe anyone should be able to keep feathered friends. These include fertilizer produced by the chickens, pest control and chickens can eat some table scraps to keep them out of the trash.

Other communities

One important aspect of debating a new ordinance and the rules that would accompany it is looking at what other municipalities have done on the subject.

For the Saturday workshop Dan Rogness, the community development director, collected information from 14 Minnesota cities:

  • Alexandria: no chickens allowed in town

  • Burnsville: a maximum of four chickens

  • Cannon Falls: a maximum of six chickens

  • Duluth: a maximum of five chickens

  • Faribault: no

  • Farmington: a maximum of three chickens

  • Hastings: a maximum of four chickens

  • Hutchinson: no

  • Lakeville: a maximum of three chickens

  • Mankato: no

  • Northfield: a maximum of six chickens

  • St. Peter: a maximum of six chickens

  • Stillwater: a maximum of five chickens

  • Winona: a maximum of 12 chickens

Red Wing Community Development Director Dan Rogness created a table that shows chicken ordinances in surrounding communities. Photo provided by the city of Red Wing
Red Wing Community Development Director Dan Rogness created a table that shows chicken ordinances in surrounding communities. Photo provided by the city of Red Wing

Other aspects to be considered before creating a chicken ordinance include which zoning districts will be included in the ordinance, lot size requirements, screening, the minimum area for chickens, coop size and standards for coops and runs.

Staff and the Advisory Planning Commission will continue working on a backyard chicken ordinance draft and will bring it back to the City Council in the future.