A year with chickens

Mendota Heights council proposes changes to ordinance.


A year after passing an ordinance to allow for domestic chickens, the Mendota Heights City Council reviewed that ordinance on March 6, something that was part of the original city code passed on March 7, 2017. 

The purpose of the one-year review was to take a look at what worked and what didn’t in the ordinance when it comes to poultry.

Tim Benetti, community development director, said the ordinance passed last year amended code regarding police regulations and zoning. The 2017 ordinance called for a $25  fee for each new chicken permit and renewals, and staff received a number of inquires from residents who were interested in possibly keeping chickens.

Only five permits were approved, and Benetti said all five of those permit holders have requested a renewal.

On Jan. 26, staff inspected all of the permitted coops in the city and found no violations.

The ordinance currently allows for four chickens to be kept in a structure that is set back 10 feet from the side and rear plot lines of a property.


Feedback from chicken owners

Benetti said there was some feedback brought up by permit holders after this first year, including rules on the composting of chicken waste/bedding materials on site.

“Right now, the ordinance says you have to dispose of it,” Benetti said, adding the council could look at amending that part of the ordinance.

There was also a lot of feedback on increasing the number of chickens allowed to six, as well as the elimination or reduction of the annual permit fee, he said.

Also, a number of permit holders objected to city staff going onto their property to inspect chicken coops.

Council member Jay Miller asked how many complaints came in during the calendar year regarding chickens. Benetti said there had been none.

Miller wondered why then staff didn’t work with permit holders on scheduling inspections. 

He also asked about the annual permit cost for a dog or cat in the city. The permit per neutered dog is $10 and $15 per non-neutered dog. 

“To me, that $25 seems a bit excessive each year. I understand why we want to have a permit but if we need to re-up our dog every year and it’s $10, I don’t know why a chicken would be more,” Miller said.

Council member Liz Petschel said her observation is staff isn’t going in and inspecting a residence where a dog lives. Part of the $25 chicken permit fee was to cover staff time for inspections.

Miller asked how much collective time went into the five inspections. Benetti said it took him about two hours to go to each site, not including prep or follow-up.

Council member Joel Paper said what with everything coming out fine the first year, it seems like waste of manpower to continually check coops unless there is a complaint.  

Benetti said zoning and enforcement is complaint driven and that he’d be more than happy to only investigate a complaint from a neighbor. 

“I’ve got much better things to do than go look at chickens, especially from an Iowa farm boy’s perspective,” Benetti said.

Mayor Neil Garlock said first-time permits could be inspected, but after that if everything checks out there’s no need for another inspection unless there is a complaint. 


What about composting?

Petschel said her main concern about chicken owners composting manure on site was the smell, made worse by heat and rain.

“There’s a lot of things I’m willing to compromise on, even the number of chickens, but this one, just from an odor standpoint in the really hot weather and also for the bacteria runoff, are concerns for me,” she said, adding if the city were more rural, it wouldn’t matter as much.

Miller said that while he can appreciate those concerns, he wants to believe that permit holders are going to do their best to diminish those hazards. 

Paper said if waste composting leads to bad smells, neighbors would call in a complaint and the chicken owner could lose their ability to compost.

Ultimately, the council recommended several changes to the current ordinance, including allowing for on-site composting, increasing the number of allowed chickens to six and decreasing the permit cost to $15. Inspections would only be required for first-time permit holders. After that, inspections will only be made if there is a complaint.

Benetti said the ordinance could be brought back in another year’s time and amended again as needed.

The changes to the ordinance will come back to the council for its final approval at the March 20 meeting.


– Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com

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