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Chickens get to stay in town

August 28, 2012
Meg Alexander - Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel

FAIRMONT - Fairmont chicken owners, this is your clucky day. Fairmont is now among the growing number of cities across the country considered "chicken-friendly" - or at least it's in the process of becoming one.

No one cried fowl at the public hearing Monday at City Hall. The council chamber was full of chicken supporters, who voiced their concerns about proposed changes to City Code that would clearly ban chickens in Fairmont. Following the hearing, the City Council unanimously voted against the ordinance and instead decided to adopt a policy that is more open to a wider variety of pets.

According to City Attorney Elizabeth Bloomquist, Fairmont has not allowed chickens, except in agricultural zones. A citizen came to her recently questioning the ordinance, at which time Bloomquist decided clarification was needed. She presented the council with a proposed amendment that would change the ordinance to explicitly state: "No person shall keep any livestock, regardless of age, including but not limited to: horse, cattle sheep, goat, swine, llamas, camels, buffalo, chicken, poultry or fowl or animal of a wild nature."

Article Photos

PRO-CHICKENS — Sofia Gutierrez, 5, swings a basket full of stuffed animals she brought to Fairmont City Hall on Monday for a public hearing on an ordinance amendment to ban chickens. Seated to her left is the little girl’s mother, Sally Gutierrez, who spoke in favor of allowing people to keep chickens as pets, a stance the City Council unanimously supported.

The changes are noted in italics.

However most of the public's confusion regarding animals allowed to be kept as pets is due to another section of the ordinance. It states that cats, dogs and other animals customarily kept as pets are allowed.

Apparently there's been some confusion over the issue at City Hall as well. Resident Bob Charnecki said he has had chickens at his Fairmont home for years. Before purchasing them, he asked City Hall and was told chickens are allowed.

"They haven't messed on the boulevard or chased the mailman," Charnecki said, inferring that dogs are much more problematic than chickens.

Exotic bird owner Mark Anderson wanted Bloomquist to tell him what is considered a customary pet: "I want to make sure my pets aren't outlawed because of some semantics."

Anderson said he found the proposed ordinance even more ambiguous than the existing one, since "fowl" technically means "bird."

"Our birds are a valuable member of our family," Anderson said, noting the pets even accompany him to sporting events.

"If you change something, would we be grandfathered in?" he asked.

Bloomquist indicated that could be a possibility. She said the intention of the proposed ordinance was not to ban all birds, just the ones considered livestock. Since the Andersons' birds are primarily kept indoors, and chickens are kept outdoors, she saw no problem with the Andersons' pets.

This then raised questions about the definition of livestock. Bloomquist said the definition of livestock is based on what's written in the City Code.

"Does that include anything considered livestock?" asked Laurence Lau, mentioning that rabbits are technically considered livestock.

"Rabbits are prohibited already," Bloomquist said.

Fairmont resident Brenda Ervin, who owns three pet chickens, spoke out against the city dictating what pets people can keep.

"Us as citizens, we can make our own choices," she said, so long as a pet is not a public hindrance.

Her neighbor and fellow chicken owner, Angel Gordon, echoed similar sentiments.

"I'm the one who challenged the city's definition of a housepet," Gordon said.

She pointed out that federal and state agencies "do a great job deciding what is safe."

"Most people would prefer you stay out of their personal choices. I don't want you to tell me what to wear, or what pets I can have, or what animal I can become attached to," she said.

In regard to Bloomquist's argument that chickens should be banned because they are kept outdoors, Gordon countered that other pets within Fairmont city limits are kept outdoors too.

Sally Gutierrez, accompanied by her 5-year-old daughter Sofia, also approached the podium to advocate for keeping chickens as pets. The family owned chickens when they lived in a small town in Texas.

"They're a good pet," said Gutierrez, her daughter nodding enthusiastically. "I see more problems with dogs or cats."

Several more people spoke up before the public hearing was closed, at which time council members also spoke in favor of the city adopting a different ordinance than the one they were presented with Monday.

"I'd like to know at what time the ordinance was written?" asked Councilman Harlan Gorath. "I don't know the answer to that, but I do know times are changing."

"We need to look at changing the ordinance to be as pet-friendly as we can," he added.

Councilman Andy Lucas agreed.

"Anyone not supportive [of chickens] would have been here," he said, especially since the topic has garnered so much public attention.

"I don't see a problem with keeping a few chickens in a backyard coop," said Councilman Joe Kallemeyn, adding that he disagreed with the city attorney about the difference between the definition of livestock and pet.

Kallemeyn also suggested the city re-examine the ban on rabbits, particularly since so many children in 4-H have rabbits they show at fairs. Sitting in the audience were a number of 4-H families.

"People can make their own choices," said Kallemeyn, quoting one of the citizens who spoke up Monday. "Our citizens are generally intelligent people."

At city administrator Mike Humpal's recommendation, the council and staff are not rushing into a new ordinance, but will take the time to develop a pet ordinance that can be easily understood. In the meantime, chickens, rabbits and the like are safe.

"Just remember," Humpal said, "if an animal is running at large - whether it's a cat, dog, chicken, cockatoo or whatever - it's subject to being picked up."

Bloomquist asked the council for guidance in writing a new ordinance, encouraging members to think about what the requirements will be for newly allowed pets' environments, licenses and tags to identify a pet on the loose.



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