Eden Prairie discusses backyard chicken ordinance

The citizens of Eden Prairie queried in a 2016 quality of life survey were overall more supportive of backyard chickens than not. (City of Eden Prairie graphic)
After a year or two of occasional consideration, the Eden Prairie City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance that, if it garners final approval, would allow backyard chickens within city limits.

Updating the council on the measure’s progress, City Manager Rick Getschow first referred to a 2016 quality of life survey, which gauged resident support for such an ordinance. It found that 27 percent would “strongly support” the measure, 32 percent would “somewhat support” it, 17 percent would “somewhat oppose” it and 25 percent would “strongly oppose” it.

Getschow noted that, in amending the applicable chapter of city code, a public hearing was not required. But, as he and council members pointed out throughout the evening, public input is still possible before the second reading of the ordinance.

Zoning Administrator James Schedin walked through each section of the proposed ordinance before fielding questions from council members.

He briefly described how the ordinance had been written, a process that leaned on nearby cities’ adopted codes regarding chickens.

“The ordinance we have tonight is pretty much an amalgamation of a whole bunch of ordinances that we studied from adjoining cities,” said Schedin. “What we tried to do was write an ordinance that took into consideration the questions and concerns that you all had at the previous meeting, and write an ordinance that was fair to the people that are in favor of it, and take into consideration the somewhere-around-40 percent of residents who aren’t necessarily in favor of it.”

Essentially, the ordinance would allow single-family homes to keep a limited number of chickens in a backyard coop. The city would require coops to be constructed at least 10 feet from any property lines, and the structures would only be allowed in back yards, as opposed to front or side yards.

“We also have a provision – and again, this is looking out for that 40 percent of people who might not be in favor of it – that it can’t be closer than 50 feet to any of your neighbors’ houses,” said Schedin.

He also noted that, given especially the required distance from other homes, there were some lots in the R1 9.5 residential district that would be unable to keep chickens.

“At the end of the day, the big question is, how many of R1 9.5 parcels do we have?” said Schedin. “About 2,800. [For] what percentage of those people would not be allowed to have chickens, my best guess is roughly 25 percent.”

The coops themselves are also subject to some regulation, many of them to keep in line with state statutes regarding animal welfare and cruelty. For instance, the coops would need some insulation and ventilation, and what Schedin referred to as “elbow room.”

Prospective chicken-keepers would be asked to register and submit to an inspection of their chicken-ready coop, as well. As written, the ordinance would not require any kind of registration renewal, unless a resident’s chicken-keeping were to lapse.

Council members had a variety of questions and tweaks regarding the ordinance, though they spoke generally in favor of the measure, including a unanimous vote to approve the first reading.

“We’ve got five chickens listed in there [as a maximum],” noted Councilmember Kathy Nelson. “I thought we had always talked about three, maybe four chickens. I did a small amount of reading about chickens, and … a lot of places said four is the ideal number, because if you get to five, they start getting a pecking order, and some chicken ends up on the bottom and there could be problems.”

Schedin noted that a five-chicken limit was typical for surrounding cities, but said that the number was up to council discretion.

Councilmember Brad Aho asked if agreements between homeowners, for homeowners’ associations and the like, would be able to bar chicken-keeping in neighborhoods under their purview. Ric Rosow, the city attorney, responded that such private covenants would be enforceable in that community.

Mayor Nancy Tyra-Lukens pointed out that the ordinance, as written, did not charge a fee for registration. She noted that a fee is charged for dog licensure.

“Nobody comes out to my house to inspect the facilities for taking care of my dog,” said Tyra-Lukens. “But with this, they’re going to register, and somebody from the city is going to come out and make sure where they’ve got their coop and everything is compliant — why would we not have a fee for that?”

Schedin said that a fee could be added to the ordinance.

Council members asked a variety of other questions about the draft ordinance, from structure requirements to the possibility of chicks being born (with veterinary assistance, given the prohibition on roosters). Though raising that slew of anticipatory questions, some members of the council noted that the ordinance could be amended should any unanticipated issues arise.

“It may not be a perfect ordinance at this very moment, but it’s worth, I think, to me, implementing, and then collecting data or comments or perspectives to see how it is working in Eden Prairie,” said Councilmember Sherry Butcher Wickstrom. “I’m not saying we would remove it in the future, but we would at least be able to make some positive changes, maybe.”

Councilmember Ron Case agreed with that approach. He pointed out that the cities Schedin spoke to on the topic, some of them having allowed chickens for a decade or more, reported few complaints on the matter.

“I’m guessing that’s what we’ll find,” said Case. “But, to Sherry’s point, we can fix any broken ordinance, if we find it broken.”

The council approved the measure by a 5-0 vote, giving city staff several points to refine for the second reading. Among suggested additions and revisions were a registration fee, minimum construction standards and a revocation process for non-compliant chicken-keepers that “has a little bit of teeth in it.”

After the vote, Mayor Tyra-Lukens noted once more than citizen input was still possible and welcomed in the drafting process.

“This is not a done deal,” she said. “We’re going to be doing a second reading. Anything you’re concerned about, any additional restrictions you think there should be — please let us know.”