by Dennis Dalman
The Oct. 14 Sartell City Council meeting once again opened with a family making a plea to keep three pet chickens, and the meeting closed with two council members vigorously opposing the request to allow chickens in the city.
During the Open Forum portion of the meeting, Ryan and Molly Siemens urged the council to let them keep their three pet chickens by amending the city’s animal ordinance to allow for that small number of chickens. It was the third time in two months the Siemens presented their plea to the city council.
The Siemenses purchased the three pet birds (Clara, A.J., Ivy) almost two years ago to raise as pets after the family’s dog died. At that time, they said they were unaware of a city ordinance against chickens. When they learned about the ordinance, they placed the three birds on a property in Grove City where chickens are allowed and where the Siemenses go to visit the pets on weekends.
The Siemenses were accompanied at the meeting by one of their two children, 9-year-old Adam. Ryan Siemens told the council the family has received “overwhelming support” from people who think the city should let them keep their pet birds, including 94 percent of people in a door-to-door survey the family took in several neighborhoods.
“Sartell should lead the way,” Ryan said, adding that just because other cities in the greater St. Cloud area, such as Sauk Rapids, do not allow for chickens doesn’t mean Sartell shouldn’t. Lots of communities throughout the state, he said, have adopted ordinances that allow for chickens within city limits. So far, he said, the reactions from the city have been “uninterested.”
The request, he said, is not unreasonable as allowing for pet chickens would involve no tax dollars and no public health risk.
Molly Siemens then spoke about how having pet chickens is a very positive thing for the community and that the pets pose no problems for anybody.
Siemens invited the council members to visit their one-acre lot south of Second Street to see for themselves where the pets lived. She said she would be happy to serve council members hors d’oeuvres and drinks and they could all discuss the issue around a bonfire. Then, she said, the council members could learn just how positive and problem-free the pets are on that acre of property.
Molly asked the council to consider amending the ordinance if only on a trial basis.
“Please, please consider it,” she pleaded.
Toward the end of the council meeting, under “Updates,” member Mike Chisum spoke first. The poultry ordinance, he said, has been in place for years, and this council and others have thoroughly discussed the issue at workshops. The council, said Chisum, has to treat all residents in an equal fashion and cannot make ordinance exception for some and not for others.
If chickens were to be allowed, what about roosters? Chisum asked, adding that some neighbors hearing a rooster crow at 4:30 a.m. would likely not be happy about it.
And what about other types of animals such as pot-bellied pigs, goats, ducks, turkeys?, Chisum asked. “At what point do animals stop being pets and become livestock or a farming operation, albeit a small one?”
He said there are also other concerns, such as chickens roaming free and chicken waste.
Chisum said he has received only a few emails in support of the Siemens’ pet chickens and said he has received far more responses (“probably 23”) from residents who have no interest in allowing chickens in the city.
Council member Tim Elness said he agreed with what Chisum said.
Then council member Jeff Kolb spoke up. He said he himself grew up in a small community where he raised pheasants. He has friends who have pot-bellied pigs as pets and they make wonderful pets, he noted. Kolb said he totally “gets” why some would also like chickens as pets.
But allowing for pet chickens is “just not the right fit” for Sartell.
Kolb added he would be willing to make the issue the topic of a public hearing (which the Siemens have long requested) but that for now, allowing chickens?
“I just don’t think it’s the right thing for us right now,” Kolb said.
He suggested if people want to raise pet chickens, it could be done in areas outside the greater St. Cloud area, such as on a family farm.
Oct. 28 update
At the Oct. 28 council meeting, Ryan and Molly Siemens once again addressed the council to clarify what they termed misinformation in remarks made by council members Mike Chisum and Jeff Kolb at the previous meeting, Oct. 14.
Here are the council comments clarified by Ryan Siemens:
His family was not aware of a no-chickens policy when it acquired three pet chickens 18 months ago.
Chisum stated he received 23 calls from residents opposed to allowing chickens. But Siemens said there is, in fact, overwhelming support for chickens as indicated by a 94 percent positive response from a survey of 96 homes in the city, as well as support from people who happen to meet the Siemens.
The pet chickens did have a fenced-in area on the Siemens’ property.
The waste from chickens is negligible and not smelly, Siemens said, and it is used as compost for the garden.
Molly Siemens told the council she talked on the phone with city staff in the cities of Eagan, Maple Grove, Minneapolis and St. Paul, cities that all allow for chickens in yards. They have received virtually no complaints, she said, other than one about a fence accidentally left open and one about a rooster (not allowed in that city’s chicken policy). The latter was the only complaint received by that city since 2013, Siemens said. Most ordinances, she added, allow four hens per yard.
Siemens said she has a study outlining the health benefits of having chickens. She also said she will share with the Sartell City Council the policy allowing for chickens in St. Louis Park. That way, she said, the council, if so inclined, would not have to “reinvent” the wheel in drafting a new policy.
Author: Dennis Dalman
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.