Public opinion split on backyard chickens in Geneseo

Lisa Depies
While supporters of a proposal to allow backyard chickens in Geneseo tout the benefits of fresh eggs and educational opportunities, the topic has opponents crying “fowl.”

While supporters of a proposal to allow backyard chickens in Geneseo tout the benefits of fresh eggs and educational opportunities, the topic has opponents crying “fowl.”

Approximately 30 people attended an hour-long public hearing on the issue at Geneseo’s City Hall on Tuesday, June 23.

Those in attendance were nearly split on their support for or against backyard chickens.

Geneseo city council members listened to public input on the topic during the hearing.

“It’s not a good idea for the city,” said resident Jim Henson. “Chickens are noisy and dirty and they’re smelly — especially when it rains.”

He said he felt the city could face EPA fines should chicken fecal matter wash into the city’s storm sewer system.

“Hens produce a quarter pound of manure a day, and that can’t be put in the garbage because it’s technically sewage,” he said.

City administrator Lisa Kotter read a letter of support for the chickens from resident Adam Jones, who’d kept backyard birds while living in another town. Jones wrote that chicken-keeping and gardening go hand-in-hand with chickens providing fertilizer.

Sandra Griffin told the council she’d previously lived in a city which permitted chickens.

“My neighbors had chickens, and they took very good care of them. But they still stank, and they attracted rodents, raccoons and skunks. Please don’t go down this road,” she said to the council.

Supporter Brenda Briney said she didn’t see a problem with the chickens, adding “We already have raccoons, skunks and opossums in town. Just because we have chickens won’t make a difference.”

In addition to possibly attracting rodents and predators, other opponents expressed concern that the poultry could spread diseases such as avian flu or salmonella.

Backyard chicken supporter Kristin Mortonsen said she’d spoken with a local veterinarian who said the threat of disease “isn’t even a concern.”

“Avian flu isn’t showing up in backyard chickens,” said Mortonsen, who added “And there’s only been five salmonella deaths in the last 15 years.” None of which, she said, were tied to backyard chickens.

Instead, disease attributed to the chickens was an issue in factory-farm settings, said Mortonsen.

“I don’t think a small coop of five or six chickens is unreasonable if they have a large enough yard,” said Geneseo resident Brenda Johnson.

Resident Lauren Minnaert also offered her support noting, “The birds in the trees are louder than chickens.”

The proposed Geneseo ordinance would permit a six-hen flock with no roosters allowed.

No slaughtering or bird fighting would be allowed and all chicken feed would need to be kept in air-tight containers.

The ordinance also spells out requirements for chicken coops and chicken runs.

No coop would be allowed within 25 feet of any residential structure on an adjacent lot.

“Who would want to sit out on a nice patio or deck if they’re only sitting 25 feet from stinking chickens?” asked resident Jim Drehman. “If you allow chickens, what else will you allow? Goats? Turkeys? Sheep? Pigs? Where does it stop? Chickens belong in the country.”

Opponent Elaine Henson said she felt backyard chickens in a neighborhood would lower property values.

Backyard chicken supporter Kim Windisch said the cost of operating a chicken coop would mean only those truly serious about raising backyard chickens would opt for a flock.

“It takes a lot of work and money, and people have to be really invested into it to do it,” she said.

“There’s a lot of information for and against chickens,” said alderman Martin Rothschild. “We have a lot to weigh, and I don’t think anyone is taking this lightly. What it all boils down to is, ‘Would I want it in my backyard or a neighbor’s backyard?,’ and I’m having a hard time with that.”

Mayor Nadine Palmgren agreed. “It’s definitely a split issue. Would you want it in your backyard?”

Palmgren said she felt there would be those who would offer their chickens high-quality care, but added, “If 10 places in a neighborhood have chickens, the value of that neighborhood will go down.”

She said she feared the issue also could “cause chaos between neighbors.”

The city’s proposed ordinance would require any backyard chicken owner to obtain a yearly permit from the city.

Alderman James Roodhouse questioned if placing a cap on the number of permits that could be issued would be a benefit.

“There are a lot of big cities which allow backyard chickens, so maybe it’s not as big of a deal,” he added.

Aldermen also discussed allowing chickens on properties which met certain size requirements.

“There are many backyards in Geneseo which would be way too small for chickens,” said Palmgren.

Aldermen requested more time to research and consider the issue and will continue discussing backyard chickens at the July 28th committee of the whole meeting. The earliest the issue could be voted upon by elected officials would be at the Aug. 11 city council meeting.