After spirited public comment and a failed attempt to allow six chickens, Fenton City Council voted 6-1 to allow residents to keep up to three chickens, with restrictions. The ordinance will take effect upon publication, probably within a couple of weeks, said city attorney Stephen Schultz.
The issue of chicken keeping in Fenton arose when a resident made a complaint about an having chickens. The resident, Malissa Bossardet, asked the city to allow her to keep the which she uses for eggs to feed her family. The eggs have more nutrients than those from the grocery store, and their chickens give her children a chance to go outside, get their own food and know where their food comes from, she said.
Councilman Ben Smith, who has said he doesn't support the keeping of any in the city, voted against the ordinance. He's visited Bossardet's and it's very clean. But Smith said he questions how the other 98 9/10 percent of Fenton residents would take care of chickens.
And Councilman Brad Jacob made a motion to amend the proposal, to allow two chickens per person and up to six chickens maximum. Council voted against it, 4-3.
Mayor Sue Osborn said she had a difficult time with the chicken ordinance. "No one here is not in favor of it, but I can't vote for six chickens."
It's better to start gradually, Osborn said.
Council approved allowing three chickens, with restrictions outlined in the ordinance. In addition, when it approved building and zoning fee increases, council set a $35 fee to cover the cost of annual permits for chicken keeping.
Since Fenton's ordinance is instead of zoning, there are fines for not following it, Schultz said.
After last night's meeting, Bossardet said she is very disappointed and believes Fenton has wasted nine months on the decision. Three chickens isn't enough, she believes, and the city wasted a lot of time and money. Bringing the issue back to city council in a year to see how it's working, as council discussed, will waste more time and money, Bossardet said.
"I have nine chickens," she added. "So I'm going to have some brokenhearted children."
She will need to figure out a plan for six of the chickens, she said.
Councilman Les Bland said he believes the was blown out of proportion, and he doesn't think thousands of people will come to city hall asking to have chickens. He would vote for allowing three chickens, because it's the only way the ordinance would be approved, he said.
Councilwoman Pat Lockwood said she agrees it was a long process, and she appreciates the work it took. Council researched the issue, through city administration. Since it's new for Fenton, it carries risk. It's a good ordinance, with a "ton" of restrictions, she added.
Mayor Pro Tem Cheryl King said she wouldn't vote for more than three chickens. Council can revist the issue in a year and make adjustments if needed, she said. Council members agreed on three chickens at a previous
Jacob disagreed, saying it was a default number.
Resident Gina Barnowsky said people like to be able to walk to places in Fenton but still like a small town, farm feeling. Six is a great number of chickens, to be able to provide the eggs a family needs, she said.
Her back yard is small but has privacy fencing, and neighbors wouldn't be interrupted at all by chickens. She asked whether she could keep chickens without meeting the distance requirement of at least 10 feet from a property line.
Schultz said it's a regulatory ordinance and not a zoning ordinance, so people can't appeal it. They must stay within distances the ordinance sets.
"This is barely out of the starting gate, and already we have someone asking for their property to be exempted from the rule of 10 feet," Smith said. "We've already opened the problem, and it's going to get worse."
It's three chickens today, six tomorrow, and a "year from now, someone wants ducks, or a goat, because their chickens were lonely," he said. "I still have more questions than answers."
Resident Karen Price showed council members a purse with a chicken on it, and passed out plastic eggs with chocolates and toy chickens inside. Everyone is talking about the American dream for election season, Price said. To her, that's being able to pick tomatoes and herbs in her yard and grabbing a couple of eggs from her own chickens.
There is a lot of disconnectedness in the world, and having chickens is a way to combat it, she said. It "boggles her mind" the amount of people who don't know chickens can produce eggs without a rooster in the flock, Price said.
Chickens make people laugh, lower their blood pressure and delight the soul, she added.
"I don't care what number," Price said. "I'll be so excited to have this little part of my life back."