Chickens may become permanent residents of Wauwatosa after a city panel approved a plan to shorten their probation period Tuesday.
Last winter the Common Council approved a one-year trial allowing residents to own as many as four hens, but on a six-month review this week, members of the Community Development Committee ended the trial, voting 5-1 to make the ordinance allowing chickens permanent, and reducing annual fees from $15 per bird to $10 per coop holding as many as four chickens.
As an ordinance change, the issue will go before the Common Council twice, starting next week. The motion also identified the Development Department as the reviewing agency to track chicken numbers, defined "neighbors" who must give consent to a resident having chickens as owners of adjacent property, and required a review of the program nine months after the ordinance change takes effect.
To date there are just four licensed chicken owners in the city. They own a total of 15 hens. Revenue from the licensing fees amounts to $225, and there has been just one complaint, according to a report by Assistant City Attorney Eileen Miller-Carter.
For such a small number of chickens, city staff members spent 67 hours implementing the program, licensing the birds and reviewing applications, including 10 hours by five members of the Health Department, fielding a couple of calls and attending meetings related to the ordinance (there were no disease referrals), and 57 hours by three members of the Development Department, attending meetings, reviewing incomplete applications and responding to, especially, one particular problem, Development Director Paulette Enders said.
Costs related to the program were a point of discussion before the trial period was approved, and committee members this week sought to streamline the process. Aldermen Jason Wilke and Greg Walz-Chojnacki argued for relaxed oversight, and treating chicken licensing more like dog licensing.
Walz-Chojnacki even argued against requiring neighbor consent.
"If I don't need approval for a dog or cat, I don't need approval for a chicken," he said.
But Alderwoman Kathleen Causier said chickens should be monitored differently "because they're not dogs or cats."
Alderman James Moldenhauer, who cast the only dissenting vote, said the costs of the program are too high, and that it amounts to a taxpayer subsidy of a program benefiting just a few.
Like other committee members, he foresees chicken ownership not growing beyond a few coops.
"I do take some exception to the fact that 46,975 people are going to be paying some form of tax to subsidize the 25 that do. I think the people that want to have it need to pay the cost," he said.
He was adamant about requiring neighbor approval.
Chickens owners at the meeting said they had had no complaints and that their neighbors were curious about the chickens.
"We've met quite a few neighbors that we didn't know before because of the chickens — they come to the yard to talk about them," chicken owner Eric Fowler said. "Overall it's been a really good experience for us."
Fowler even brought a few of his neighbors with him and they spoke in favor of the chickens.
Gerald Gabor, who said he had named his chickens after the musical group Dixie Chicks, agreed.
"Neighbors have come over to meet them," he said.
Alderman Bobby Pantuso recalled the intense debate over enacting the ordinance months ago, and noted that it had died down.
"Six months after, it's kind of died off, and I don't even know that I've gotten a call or an email or anything. ... It's going well, and we give it what it deserves here," he said.
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