OWOSSO — No chickens will be coming home to roost in the city of Owosso any time soon, since a majority of Owosso Planning Commission members dropped the issue after a discussion via Zoom Monday.
Planning commissioners were asked by city officials — on behalf of an interested resident — to consider a zoning ordinance change that would allow backyard chickens, mostly likely three to six hens and no roosters with a permit required.
The vote was 5-4 against proceeding further with the question. Dan Law, a city council and planning commission member, was among those who were opposed.
“I’m just dead set against it,” Law said. “I do kind of feel bad for the people who want it, but I can’t get past the fact of having barnyard animals in the city. If I wanted to live next door to them, I’d move to the country.”
Law said if chickens lived near his house, he wouldn’t be able to let his cocker spaniel, a bird dog, out into his fenced-in yard because the dog would go crazy.
During Monday’s meeting, a number of residents expressed support for backyard poultry. Proponents have said it’s a way to produce one’s own food, pursue a hobby or provide children with an educational experience.
“We have had chickens for over 20 years,” Jessica Shepard wrote on the city of Owosso’s Facebook page. “They are not dirty and (don’t) cause any diseases. They eat anything and we eat the eggs. Many say their dogs go crazy. Then let’s eradicate the squirrels. I love hearing our rooster crow. It’s awesome.”
Some commission members suggested tabling the issue until they could obtain more information about backyard chickens, but ultimately the vote was to drop the matter completely.
City Manager Nathan Henne said Tuesday backyard poultry has been a “hot-button” issue in Michigan for a few years. He said he brought the question forward after a resident approached Mayor Chris Eveleth and Fear about the city adopting a zoning ordinance amendment allowing hen-keeping.
Backyard poultry ordinances have been enacted in multiple municipalities in Michigan, including in Fenton, Bay City and Spring Lake. Henne provided planning commission members with a chart showing details of the various rules.
Most ordinances require hens to be confined in a house or coop in the backyard that is built to keep dogs, cats and wildlife out. Owners must feed and water the hens every day and keep the area in which they stay clean.
In Shiawassee County, the city of Perry’s zoning ordinance allows for certain types of poultry, such as bantam chickens, but does not allow laying hens.
In 2014, Perry officials sought an order forcing a resident to remove 34 laying hens officials said were kept in violation of a city ordinance because the hens were not considered pets.
Perry officials’ actions were prompted by neighbors complaining about a foul odor emanating from the yard of the hen-keepers, who eventually moved out of Perry, mooting the issue.
Henne said he is working with the city’s planning firm to put together a memo for council describing what the remaining options are.
Typically, zoning ordinance questions start with the planning commission, which has recommending power. The city council is the panel that makes the final decision on any policy measure.