Buzz, buzz, chirp chirp

New Brighton Urban Farming Task Force makes recommendations for bees, birds

New Brighton residents could soon be serenaded by the buzzing of their neighbors' honeybees -- or clucking of chickens -- if the city council adopts recommendations made Aug. 26 by its urban farming task force.
 
Carving out an ordinance
 
The task force was convened last September, after the city started hearing controversy about "urban farms" popping up in the suburb.
 
One farmer, Kristie Kellis, was mentioned in several media reports the summer of 2013 due to neighborhood friction over her growing vegetable crops and raising chickens on her three-quarter-acre parcel near Interstate 694 and Silver Lake Road. Kellis told the Bulletin last October, "The city would not have formed this task force if it wasn't for us." 
 
Even last fall, New Brighton appeared to be behind the urban farming times, as neighboring cities Arden Hills, Falcon Heights, Roseville, Shoreview, St. Anthony and Vadnais Heights all had policies, with hen number limits and some with bans on roosters, in place. 
 
Little Canada and Mounds View don't allow chickens, and in North Oaks, a property owner's warranty deed prohibits farm animals and poultry. 
 
Need water for honey
 
In the Aug. 26 report to the city council, task force chair Bruce Howard explained that the group, using public feedback received at a November public hearing and after, formulated a list of 10 topics the task force might address, then pared it down.
 
"There were two areas where we felt needed more discussion on regulations: bees, and chickens and fowl," Howard said.
For bee-keeping, Howard characterized the task force's recommendations as "fairly minimal," recommending that keepers register with the city, set hives five to 10 feet back from property lines and post signs alerting people that hives are nearby.
"It's common sense: you might not want a beehive on your property line next to your neighbor's house," Howard said.
 
Another requirement has both insects' and humans' best interests in mind: providing enough water onsite so the bees don't start foraging for H2O.
 
City code enforcement supervisor Joe Hatch explained the water requirement was necessary because the only complaints the city has received about bee-keeping so far have stemmed from bees taking over a neighboring pool or hot tub because a beekeeper hasn't provided enough water near the hive.
 
For the birds
 
Regarding chickens and fowl, the task force came up with a number of regulations, many dealing with how birds are housed.
 
According to the task force's recommendations, coops must be clean and sanitary, well-constructed in a way that protects birds from weather, set back five feet from property lines, not located in front yards, meet space requirements -- three square feet per bird -- and not be located inside homes.
 
Asked to clarify construction requirements, Hatch said structures the size of chicken coops typically would not require a building permit, though they would be subject to building codes. And, as a rule of thumb, "We don't want our city looking junky."
 
"We want to make sure it's of sound construction," Hatch said. "It's not going to fall over and hurt somebody and that it looks well, possibly painted."
 
As for the birds themselves, the task force recommended they be restrained on the owner's property, be it within a fenced in area or within a defined coop, run or pen.
 
"[One] doesn't necessarily, in the eyes of the task force, have to have the entire lot fenced," Howard said.
 
The number of birds allowed is dependent on lot size. Lots smaller than 10,000 square feet may have up to eight fowl.
A lot of that size would be required to have a 24-square-foot chicken coop if it were to have its maximum of eight chickens.
The task force's recommendation caps the number of fowl or chickens a 20,000-square-foot or larger lot could have at 24.
 
The task force arrived at limits based upon lot size because Howard said smell or noise limits would be impossible to define.
 
"It would be too hard for city to enforce behavior: birds can only produce 'X' decibels of noise or 'X' levels of odor," Howard said of the avian activities that get neighbors clucking. "It's something that is very hard to enforce, so while some owners could be very good neighbors with 20 birds and [others] very bad neighbors with 10, the task force felt it was appropriate to give some recommendations on basic guidelines on limit per lot size."
 
A fur-to-feathers comparison?
 
As for roosters, the task force decided to recommend the city treat them how it treats noisy dogs, eventually updating the barking dog ordinance to include regulations on rooster noise.
 
Howard said "To completely limit [roosters], most task force members thought that was pretty limiting."
 
The council was receptive to many of the recommendations, though the regulation of roosters ruffled some feathers.
 
"Every dog doesn't bark when it's outdoors, but every rooster will crow when it's outdoors," council member Gina Bauman said. "You cannot compare a dog to a rooster."
 
Speaking of both roosters and chickens, Bauman said, "That's all they do: they make noise all the time."
 
Mayor Dave Jacobsen agreed with Bauman that roosters will require a closer look, and he thanked the task force for its work, a sentiment which was echoed by others on the council.
 
"It's helped the community come to a quieter discourse [on urban farming]" Jacobsen said.
 
"This was done with due diligence and fairness," council member Brian Strub said.
 
Howard said he was similarly pleased with a the work the group had done.
 
"I think the process that we followed and the willingness of other task force members to hear other points of view was very helpful; we shared our ideas freely and in the end I think we reached consensus on all these issues," Howard said. "I would say it gives the council a very good starting point if it wants to look at urban farming issues."
 
The city council will likely take another look at the Urban Farming Task Force's recommendations at a council work session in October.
 
Other task force members include Matt Benson, Susan Dukich-Wolf, Vice-Chair Geoff Hollimon, Allison Leding, Alyssa Lundberg, Shana Morrell, Norm Schiferl and Ken Schumann.
 
Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824. Follow him on Twitter @mmunzenrider.
 
 
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