ESCANABA, Mich. (WZMQ) – Escanaba’s Planning Commission is considering an amendment to its zoning ordinance that would allow chickens and ducks within city limits.
“Currently, keeping chickens is illegal in the city, and we keep finding chicken coops,” said City Planning and Zoning Administrator Tyler Anthony. “When we see them, we ask the neighbors and the neighbors never have any problems. The chickens themselves are often so quiet we don’t even realize we’re there until we turn around and see there’s a chicken coop on the next lot.”
The proposed amendment states that the keeping of chickens and ducks would be permitted for residents with an annual license. The sale of eggs and meat would be prohibited.
Prior to Thursday evening’s Planning Commission meeting, the commission collected public feedback on the amendment. Anthony says there are strong opinions on both sides of the issue.
“There were some concerns for public health,” he said. “‘Is this going to cause a problem with sanitation or noxious odors?’ If any kind of livestock has any evidence of illness, we are writing it into this ordinance that that needs to be reported to MDARD right away. As for any noxious odors or any other problems, they won’t get their license renewed.”
The ordinance also includes strict requirements for housing the birds.
“All livestock shall be kept in an enclosure, which prevents an intrusion from vermin, like mice and rats, and also protects the animals from commonly known predators—dogs, cats, foxes,” Anthony said.
Many of those in support of the proposed amendment—including resident Trisha Lind—say keeping your own chickens is a way to live more sustainably. According to Lind, keeping chickens also saves her money on groceries.
“If you’re a family of six or more, you go through a lot of eggs,” she said. “Just to make breakfast for my family, I go through an 18-pack right off the bat. These guys can lay up to two eggs a day and when you have 14 of them, that’s a lot of eggs.”
The ordinance states that “the number of animals is limited to six per property.” Lind says that is a concern for egg production.
“Flocks that are smaller—especially when they have to be contained—they don’t like to lay as much,” she said. “They’re not as comfortable to lay. You can’t just throw a number on something without actually doing the homework.”
Anthony presented the ordinance amendment to the Planning Commission Thursday evening. Members of the public also expressed their opinions, both in person and via letters.
The planning commissioners and some residents raised concerns about the smell of chickens and ducks bothering the keepers’ neighbors.
“I’ve been selling real estate forever and the reason a lot of people do live in the city is because there are not farm animals of any type,” said Commissioner Michael Harris. “I think there’s a good reason why people want them, but I think that there’s a lot more people that particularly wouldn’t want them.”
Commissioner Christiana Reynolds commented on the potential benefits of allowing chickens and ducks in the city limits.
“I personally lean towards providing the citizens of Escanaba with as much liberty as we possibly can and still respect our neighbors,” she said. “As we move towards a more sustainable future, hobby farming is definitely going to be a piece of that. I think it’s a smart move to think in the future and maybe start laying the groundwork for creating more of those sustainable opportunities for citizens.”
Commissioner Mark Sadowski had an issue with the process residents would have to go through, as outlined in the amendment, in order to keep chickens or ducks.
“A permit, a license, that just sounds like more taxation without really any use except more money,” Sadowski said. “I don’t like that at all.”
The commissioners agreed the language of the amendment covered potential issues thoroughly. However, they moved to postpone making a decision on the matter in favor of doing more research into municipalities that already allow the keeping of chickens.
Commissioner Patrick Connor suggested talking with some of those cities about “the problems they came up with and how they’re dealing with them so we don’t have to go through them.”
If the Planning Commission approves the amendment to the zoning ordinance at a future meeting, the amendment would move on to the City Council for public hearings.