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Council says 'no' to chickens in neighborhoods

Hesitant, cautious, uncertain ... chicken.

The Hastings City Council Monday night unanimously defeated an ordinance that would have allowed people in residential neighborhoods to keep chickens in their backyards.

The council did, however, decide chickens should be allowed at the LeDuc Historic Estate and on land zoned as public institutions, and directed city staff to come up with a revised ordinance change that would allow for that.

The public institution zone in Hastings includes Hastings High School, the Pleasant Hill Library, Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, the Minnesota Veterans Home Hastings and Regina Medical Center. Most other schools in Hastings are in residential zones.

The LeDuc submitted the original request to the city to keep chickens as a living exhibit meant to interpret the agricultural side of the LeDuc family's life. As that request was making its way through the city, a Hastings resident asked about keeping chickens at her home.

On a 5-2 vote last month, the Hastings Planning Commission approved an ordinance that would have allowed chickens in both residential areas and public institutions. The two commission members who voted against it were in favor of allowing chickens on public institution land, but against allowing them in residential areas. The way the ordinance change was written, however, it was all or nothing, which is why city staff will have to rework the proposed change and bring it back to the council for approval.

The council cited several reasons for its opposition to chickens being allowed in residential areas, including the additional time that'd be spent by the city's code enforcement officer and Planning Department policing chicken coops and chickens, the possibility of nuisances and complaints arising, budgetary concerns, aesthetics and the possibility of negatively effecting property values.

Council Member Tony Alongi said whenever you add another job for a governmental body to do, it means more money needs to be spent. With the city's budget already strained, he and other council members questioned if this is the right time for the city to take on more costs and responsibilities.

"I honestly believe this is not the time to make government more complicated," he said.

Council Member Mike Slavik said the LeDuc came to the city with a solid proposal of why they wanted to keep chickens, and plans for what they want to do with them.

"That was a good place to start," he said. "Then it got bigger."

Slavik commended the democratic process and said in this case it worked like it's supposed to, with residents providing input and altering the proposed ordinance change. Still, he sided with the rest of the council in his opposition to the ordinance.

Mayor Paul Hicks said residents in Hastings have certain expectations of what they will and won't see in their neighborhoods. He said when he's sitting on his deck, he doesn't want to see chicken coops in his neighbors' backyards. Alongi questioned what would happen to the chicken coops when houses change hands.

At Monday's public hearing, three people spoke in favor of the ordinance, and three people spoke against it. Those in favor said they wanted chickens for the added economic and health benefits that come from getting fresh eggs, and thought keeping chickens would teach their kids about responsibility and their agricultural roots.

Those in favor said anyone who is going to invest in building a chicken coop and buying chickens would take care of them and not allow them to become a nuisance.

Alongi commended the people in attendance at the meeting who came to support the ordinance change, but said not everyone would be as responsible as they would.

"You wouldn't need a police department if everybody was responsible," he said.

The council directed city staff to draft a new ordinance change that keeps chickens out of residential neighborhoods, but allows them in public institution zones. Since it's a new ordinance, it has to go back before the Hastings Planning Commission before going to the council. The earliest it could be back before the council is Sept. 21.

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