In Whitefish, the chickens will have their day but the ducks will have to wait.
On Monday night the Whitefish City Council approved an ordinance that exempts female chickens from livestock regulations and instead labels them as pets in residential areas. Single and two-family households can now have a maximum of five chickens as long as they are kept in a fenced-in side or backyard. They are not allowed in front yards.
The chickens must be enclosed within an area that’s at least 10 feet from the property line. No roosters, due to their well-known propensity for loud noises, are permitted. The council approved the ordinance with a 5-1 vote, with Turner Askew voting in opposition.
A proposed amendment to include ducks was shot down 3-3. Mayor Mike Jenson wasn’t present to provide the tie-breaking vote. The council agreed to revisit the duck issue in the future.
The council originally discussed a proposal brought forth by the city planning staff that called for a three-chicken allowance. But Shirley Jacobson, in her last meeting as a council member, said five chickens is more reasonable for providing whole families with sufficient eggs. Nick Palmer, who said he has raised chickens before, agreed. Palmer also proposed the duck amendment, offering one of the night’s many fowl jokes with: “Don’t duck this.”
In a meeting punctuated by poultry humor, staff members and councilors alike took the opportunity to make frequent references to the chicken crossing the road, putting all of your eggs into one basket and the rest. After the first gag, Councilor Nancy Woodruff said, “You had to do a chicken joke,” and the giggles began.
In his opposition of the ordinance, Askew warned of the “unintended consequences” that could possibly arise with bringing more animals into city limits. He brought up the fact that there are already garbage regulations designed to mitigate the temptation of bears and other wildlife to roam into the city. He also mentioned nuisance issues. Jacobson, however, contended that dogs, particularly ones that bark, are a much bigger annoyance.
“I think we’re getting overjoyed with how cute it’s going to be,” Askew said.
He added: “Once you pass this, it’s really hard to go back.”
Previously, city residents had to apply for a conditional use permit if they wanted to have chickens for any reason: eggs, meat or just as pets. The permits cost between $330 and $990 and adhered to a standard of 50 chickens per one acre. Now, if residents wish to exceed the five-chicken limit, they will then be subject to the original conditional use permits and the 50-chickens-per-acre guideline.
In August, a resident addressed the council about the expensive permits. The council then recommended that the planning board take up the issue, with the aid and research of city staff. After months, the planning staff eventually completed an ordinance draft for the council to review.
Ninety-seven residents, a substantial number, signed a petition supporting the chicken law. Most of the people in attendance at Monday night’s left after the council voted on the ordinance, though Woodruff was still surprised that there weren’t more in the relatively small audience.
“We got a petition from 97 people,” she said. “Where are the chicken people?”
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