Waupun Mayor breaks tie to pursue city chicken plan
WAUPUN – It remains to be seen whether the fabled Chicken Little was right, and if the sky will truly fall if Waupun residents are allowed to keep chickens within city limits.
The issue was on Tuesday evening’s Common Council agenda at Waupun City Hall.
City Attorney Daniel Vande Zande was previously directed to craft such an ordinance and to bring it back to the council for consideration, but it almost died on the spot.
Only a tie breaking vote Tuesday night at city hall — by Mayor Julie Nickel — allowed the idea to move forward.
Council members Ryan Mielke, Westphal and Kaczmarski voted to pursue the matter while Mike Matoushek, Bobbie Vossekuil and Nancy Vanderkin voted no. The issue will be revisited on May 14, when final approval or denial will be considered. Those who supporters and/or oppose the plan are invited to make their comments then, or to contact their council members to share their concerns.
“Our city attorney has done a great deal of research, and took into consideration what the public had to say and what you as a council had to say,” Nickel said. “We’ve spent an awful lot of time on this. This is a first reading tonight so you have to decide what you want to do.”
Vande Zande introduced the measure, clarifying that the ordinance will amend Chapter 8.02(8)(b)(5) of municipal code which prohibits chickens — and other specific animals — from being kept within the city. If that ordinance is changed chickens will be allowed as an exception to that code.
“I received a number of comments from a number of people and I tried to take them all into account,” said Vande Zande. “I went into this project knowing that everyone is not going to get everything he or she wants. Most municipalities that have this kind of ordinance do not see a huge number of problems coming to them. Also, we don’t know how the law will work until we put it into effect. If it doesn’t work we may have to go back and revise it.”
“One of the thing that I like about this is that those requesting the permit have to have 100 percent support from abutting neighbors,” said Waupun Code Enforcement Officer Mike Beer.
Aldermen pecked at the initial proposal and suggested limiting the number of permits, designating areas of the city where hens may be kept, limiting the number of hens and limiting the size of the chicken pens and coops.
There was some question as to whether citizens in the older part of town, where lots are smaller, should be allowed to keep hens.
“As long as they can keep established setbacks I don’t see any reason not to include them,” said Pete Kaczmarski.
“If we eliminate R-4 (central area single family) and R-5 (mixed residential) there’s just no reason to do this,” said alderman Jason Westphal. “There just aren’t enough people to make it worthwhile.”
Answering Vande Zande’s appeal for flexibility, Kaczmarski said, “I don’t want to revisit it every year. Either you’re going to do it or you’re not going to do it.”
Waupun City Administrator/Economic Development Director Kathy Schlieve addressed concerns over whether there is enough staff to handle a problem, should it arise.
“We do not have excess staff to handle enforcement of this ordinance,” said Schlieve. “I’m not saying we’re going to have a problem, but if we do we’re going to have a difficult time handling it.”
She further reported that the Waupun Area Animal Shelter will not accept hens if they are rescued from abuse or neglect.
“We’d be left without knowing what to do in that kind of situation,” Schlieve said. “That’s something you need to consider.”
It has yet to be determined whether the police department or code enforcement would have authority to issue citations.
“I think you could work that out on a staff level,” said Vande Zande.
Beer stated that there are many conflicts with renters and landlords as it is.
“We struggle with maintenance and other violations all the time as it is,” said Beer. “It’s an ongoing fight to get people to take care of their properties without adding chickens into it.”
Chickens would not impact the number of dogs and cats a person or family can keep, so they can potentially have the maximum number of all three.
“What happens when a dog gets out and kills a chicken?” posed Beer.
Vande Zande indicated that chickens must be kept inside a pen at all times, although that may also be a challenge to enforce.
“I went into this project knowing that everyone is not going to get everything he/she wants. Most municipalities that have this kind of ordinance do not see a huge number of problems coming to them. Also, we don’t know how the law will work until we put it into effect. If it doesn’t work we may have to go back and revise it. So look at this as a trial run more than something carved in stone. We’ll undoubtedly have to come back and look at it again after we pass it.” <&textAlign: right>Daniel Vande Zande, Waupun City Attorney