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Issue ruffles feathers: No chickens allowed, WF City Commission says

Following about 40 minutes of discussion, sometime heated, West Fargo City Commissioners voted unanimously not to approve an ordinance change that would have allowed up to four chickens within enclosures on residential property with consent of owners of any house within 75 feet of the enclosure.

Justin and Ashley Morken, who live at 1228 Goldenwood Drive, initially made the request, touting the benefits of urban agriculture, sustainable living and having control of where your food comes from, noting several other cities who already have ordinances in place allowing chickens, i.e. Fargo, Minneapolis, Grand Forks, etc.

A handful of people were present at the meeting to show support for the ordinance amendment, while several residents, most living in the Goldenwood subdivision, voiced definite opposition.

City Commissioner Mark Simmons asked city attorney Brian Neugebauer if changing the ordinance would overrule covenants set up in respective city subdivisions. The reply was 'no.'

"Then I think this is a moot point," Simmons said. "This in no way overrules a covenant and I think someone should have looked into these before we went through this."

James Morken, developer of Goldenwood and Justin Morken's father, said he felt the bottom line was the right to have chickens. "You can have reptiles, turtles, snakes; I don't know why you are making such a big deal out of this. You have a lot more problems with dogs."

Addressing the covenants in Goldenwood, Morken said he had one for the first addition but not the second or third.

This is where several Goldenwood residents spoke up to differ.

Don Faith, 1248 Goldenwood Drive, said he asked for covenants and received them. He opposed the ordinance change, noting he has seen eagles and coyotes, adding he couldn't believe that poultry wouldn't attract predatory animals. "If I knew this would have been allowed, I wouldn't have bought."

Residents of 1248 and 1256 Goldenwood offered similar sentiments, saying they also believed the covenants they received were binding.

Denis Marotzke who lives at 1250 Goldenwood, also mentioned seeing coyotes in his backyard stating "if you are going to raise farm animals, you should have built on a farm."

David Wyum, who lives in Hidden Court, and spoke against the ordinance two weeks ago, said he was still in opposition, saying he too felt farm animals should be raised on farms.

A resident of Horace and one living in Evergreen Circle spoke on behalf of adopting the ordinance change.

LaRae Storer said she decided to live in Horace so she could have chickens in her backyard. She said it has been a great way to meet the neighbors, who often stop and visit and ask about the venture, as well as have control over where some of your food comes from.

Brian Tucker said he had raised chickens when he lived near Sioux Falls and he was pretty excited to see West Fargo considering the ordinance change.

The Morkens said they presented the ordinance in an attempt to get it passed for the entire city, stating that after the discussion they were aware it probably wouldn't be approved because of the opposition in their neighborhood. "We probably won't end up getting chickens," Ashley said. "We'd rather have a healthy relationship with our neighbors, but we still encourage you to do the ordinance."

Simmons said he respected everyone involved with this issue for coming forward, saying he had also received a lot of calls and e-mails from residents opposing the ordinance change. "I don't think our city wants this at this time." He made the motion to deny the request, with Commissioner Lou Bennett providing the second.

Before taking the vote, Commissioner Mark Thorstad said he agreed with Simmons at this point. "I think it shows all the possible conflicts we could face in the future. I agree with Mark, this is something we don't need at this point."

The board voted 5-0 to deny the ordinance revisions.

There was also a considerable amount of discussion regarding changing the access point for the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch thrift store presently under construction on the corner of Sixth Street East and 13th Avenue East.

Residents living along 13 ½ Avenue East made the request to have the access moved from directly across from them to either 13th Avenue or 6th Street, based on space and safety considerations for everyone living in the twinhome neighborhood. The street in front of their homes is only 21 feet wide with no parking allowed on either side;

Public Works Street Administrator Chris Brungardt reported back to the commission after completing a study saying it would be too dangerous to move the entrance either onto Sixth Street East or 13th Avenue East.

The most suitable option presented was into the area that fronts the Three Lyons Pub off of 13th Avenue that would lead to the adjoining commercial lots, with the consensus that it might be best to arrive at a solution utilizing this frontage area. However, the main problem lies in the fact that this lot is not yet developed and some arrangement would have to be worked out with the property owner.

Senior Planner Steve Zimmer said he had attempted to make contact with the individual involved to discuss this possibility but hadn't heard back yet. He said he would continue working to arrange a meeting.

Mayor Rich Mattern encouraged that, saying "We really need to have a discussion with the central owner. That would go a long way in helping solve this."

Commissioner Lou Bennett agreed. "I think we should discuss this with the developer and see if he's agreeable to putting a temporary road across the front and remind him that with a PUD we can dictate in the future. We need to get something done in a friendly manner to best resolve this."

Residents expressed concern about a timeline, with commissioners assuring them they would move as efficiently as possible and contact them when the matter was ready for future city commission action.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the West Fargo City Commission will take place at 5:30 p.m., Monday, June 7, in the commission chambers at West Fargo City Hall. All meetings are open to the public.