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Chicken ordinance OK'd by Planning Commission

Hastings residents are now just a vote of the Hastings City Council away from being able to keep chickens as pets and food sources.

The Hastings Planning Commission approved an ordinance last week that would allow property owners in most residential areas to keep chickens. Essentially, anyone with a single-family home would be eligible, while people in townhomes, condos and apartments would not.

Land zoned for public institutions, which includes the LeDuc Historic Estate, would also be allowed to keep chickens, and the Planning Commission directed city staff to include schools, as well.

Some of the specifics of the proposed ordinance include:

• No roosters are permitted (it's roosters, not female hens, who crow at dawn);

• Four chickens are allowed per property, and an additional four are allowed for each acre of property over one acre;

• A license fee that has yet to be determined by the Hastings City Council would need to be paid; and

• Standards for the size and design of chicken coops are outlined.

Under the proposed ordinance, people wishing to keep chickens would have to apply for a permit from the city to do so. The first year of the permit would be probationary, with a full permit being issued after one year.

Property owners within 350 feet would be notified of their neighbor's request for a permit at least 10 days before the Planning Commission's review of the permit would take place. If any issues regarding noise, odor or other complaints arise, the city would work with property owners to address the problems. The city could revoke licenses and take the chickens away from property owners if issues aren't addressed or persistent nuisances arise.

The licenses wouldn't be transferable. If a property changes ownership, the new owners would have to apply for a permit if they wish to continue keeping chickens.

The LeDuc house was one of the first to request permission from the city to keep chickens on its property. If approved, the LeDuc house plans to use them as a living exhibit to interpret the agricultural side of the LeDuc family's life. Several Hastings residents also spoke in favor of the proposed ordinance at last week's Planning Commission meeting, and no one spoke in opposition to it, but a couple people suggested ways it could be improved.

Hastings resident Tim Lowing said the 350-foot notification was over-reaching and unnecessary.

In a letter to the council, he said if a household was to keep chickens in its backyard, it's likely only adjacent property owners would notice. He drew a comparison between the city's rules governing dog licenses and the proposed chicken ordinance.

"Dogs are far more intrusive in terms of noise, odor and certainly potential danger, yet there are no requirements to notify neighbors when applying for a dog license," he wrote. "Hens on the other hand are small, docile and quiet, and require very little space."

Lowing worried the 350-foot notification could be a "catalyst of conflict due to common misconceptions associated with keeping hens," and thought notification of adjacent property owners would be sufficient.

On Monday, the Hastings City Council conducted its first reading of the ordinance and ordered a public hearing on it, which will take place at the council's Aug. 3 meeting. The council will likely vote on the ordinance at that meeting.