In May, when a small group of citizens persuaded the city to take up a discussion of permitting residential chicken-keeping, the idea got a decidedly cool reception.
It was little wonder. Neither the citizens proposing nor the city staff assessing the concept really looked at the details of how other cities that allow chickens – and there are many, including Milwaukee – handle the situation.
The proposal was tabled pending further research, and it came back Tuesday to the city's Community Development Committee to a much warmer welcome, though less than unanimous.
After a presentation on successful chicken-keeping ordinances elsewhere, committee members voted 5-2 to direct City Attorney Alan Kesner to draft an ordinance for Common Council consideration.
"It will be modeled on Milwaukee's ordinance," Kesner said. "We've also been asked to address the costs of licensing and enforcement."
Scores of cities across the nation, including San Francisco and Portland, Ore., have adopted chicken-keeping ordinances designed to allow a few hens – no rousing roosters – to be kept in residential back yards.
Advocates of urban chickens cite getting fresh eggs as their top reason for having poultry on the premises, but hens also can consume vegetable scraps and produce high-quality fertilizer for the flower bed – regulations permitting.
Among the concerns cited in May was the potential for salmonella to spread from chickens, eggs or their waste. There were worries about chickens drawing predators such as coyotes into neighborhoods where pets and children might be threatened.
Well-crafted ordinances address those and other issues, advocates say, and such problems have not been reported where responsible chicken-keeping has been allowed for years.
The cost of enforcement was also raised as a concern, but the chicken lobby points out that Milwaukee had determined that a permit costing only $35 was sufficient to cover the city's expected expenses.
Cream City Hens, the group that successfully lobbied Milwaukee to create a chicken-permitting ordinance there, helped their city devise its law to protect both the chickens and the community.
According to the organization's website, these are the requirements of the Milwaukee ordinance:
The ordinance that was passed allows for four hens in each residential back yard, any breed, any size, providing that you meet some basic requirements of the City of Milwaukee, including:
- A secure, sanitary, predator-proof coop and run. The city requires 16 square feet per bird, and it's recommended that 4 square feet be interior (coop) and 12 be exterior (run).
- Birds must have access to clean water and food at all times.
- No roosters are allowed on residential properties.
- No slaughtering within city limits.
- Approval by the owners of all neighboring residences (those on either side of your dwelling as well as those across an alley directly behind you as well as kitty-corner across an alley from your lot).
- A 25-foot setback is required for the coop – this means that your final constructed coop must be 25 feet from neighboring residences (this does not include garages, lot lines, garden sheds, greenhouses, etc., and the run does not factor in to this 25-foot measurement).
- A permit is required, for which you must pay $35 and meet all requirements of the city regarding the rules of the full ordinance and have properly filled out all paperwork required by the city.
- An approved DNS-362 site plan to the satisfaction of the Department of Neighborhood Services.
- A DNS-363 Neighbor Approval Statement Form from every neighbor touching your lot line.
At last count, only 16 permits had been drawn in the entire City of Milwaukee, and it seems unlikely that very many people in Wauwatosa would opt to build and maintain a chicken enclosure.
For those who might, Tuesday's vote was the first positive step.