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Ann Arbor Officials Mull Changes To Chicken Ordinance

Buff Orpington chicken
Wikimedia Commons

Proposal to eliminate neighbor approval requirement divides City Council.

Seven years ago Ann Arbor City Council passed an ordinance allowing residents to keep up to four chickens in their backyard. At the time the issue divided council and was only approved after a requirement to get written approval from neighbors was included. Council is now considering an option for allowing chickens without neighbor consent. 

Eileen Dickinson walks through the snow towards the chicken coop behind her west-side Ann Arbor home.
Three reddish-brown Buff Orpington chickens cluck and coo as she approaches with an apple core and some other food scraps. "Feed them about every four days. I change the water about once a week, and I put new straw in when it snows, and I clean the coop out thoroughly about twice a year and add it to my compost," Dickinson says.

For this work Dickinson says she's getting about three eggs per day and more. "They're very entertaining in their behavior. I love having them out my kitchen window. I love watching them, I have the coop lit at night during the dark months so that I have a visual focus in the backyard. My neighbors love collecting their compost and feeding it to the birds. The kids love coming over," Dickinson says.

Dickinson's experience is typical for the over 100 Ann Arbor residents that have gotten permits for chickens. Over the last seven years less than a handful of complaints have been raised by neighbors. City Council member Jane Lumm credits the provision requiring neighbor approval for the program working smoothly. "Having the neighbors approval provides the balance. I think you're much more likely not to have issues down the road. So in effect it does keep it so staffers are more likely not to have to get engaged in it," Lumm says.

But for some in Ann Arbor the neighbor veto has proved an insurmountable obstacle to raising chickens. "I know of several people within the fifth ward that have been unable to get permits, either because they've had an unresponsive neighbor that just doesn't respond yes or no, or because there's been a landlord that doesn't live next to the birds but doesn't want to have them next to his property, or neighbors that have been in dispute," says City Council member Chuck Warpehoski.

He wants to let residents who can't get neighbor permission a provisional permit for two birds for one year.
The proposal excites Ann Arbor resident Kim Bayer. "We don't have neighbors who have refused permission we have neighbors we haven't been able to contact for various reasons for permission, and I know that there are other people who are in similar situations," Bayer says.

Bayer wants chickens to help create a more sustainable lifestyle as she fears our current food system is broken. "Having new skills and feeling a little bit more self sufficient and figuring out closed loop energy systems that are possible even at a very small scale are things that I'm tyring to explore and that I want to see how we can do," Bayer says.

Lumm thinks it's unfortunate that some people can't get neighbor approval, but says in an urban setting many people remain uncomfortable with livestock next door. She's concerned about what will happen with provisional permits. "In effect you could just keep getting these and you know, in effect you would be avoiding the neighbor requirement.  So again, I think that's not a good thing," Lumm says. Lumm also fears the provisional permits will put city staffers in the middle of neighbor disputes. 

Bayer counters that two chickens for one year can serve as a good trial period. She expects her neighbors will appreciate the birds. "Hope to be able to share eggs with our neighbors, but also we share animal care with some of our neighbors and so I hope that it would be a way of getting them involved with having some ideas what it's like to raise chickens," Bayer says.

City council is expected to make a final decision on the change at their January 20th meeting.

Like 89.1 WEMU on Facebook and follow us on Twitter— Andrew Cluley is the Ann Arbor beat reporter, and anchor for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him acluley@emich.edu.       

Like many, I first came to this area when I started school at the University of Michigan, then fell in love with the community and haven’t left. After graduating from U of M in the mid 1990’s I interned at WDET for several years, while also working a variety of jobs in Ann Arbor. Then in 1999 I joined the WEMU news team.
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