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Tosa considers allowing residents to raise chickens

May 9, 2012

Wauwatosa residents feeling a bit peckish for some fresh eggs will have to wait until this fall to find out if they will be allowed to keep chickens on their properties.

While a formal vote wasn't taken Tuesday, members of the city's Community Development Community appeared split on whether allowing people to keep chickens is a move toward a more sustainable city or a possible health hazard and drain on city staff who would have to handle permitting and enforcement activities.

Alderman Bobby Pantuso suggested taking some time to learn how the city of Milwaukee has handled its ordinance that permitted chickens on residential properties about a year ago and the costs that have resulted.

"We need to tread lightly with this," he said, adding he wouldn't be opposed to exploring a trial for a limited number of households.

He already grows tomatoes, herbs and mushrooms at his home and the idea of some fresh eggs definitely started Pantuso's mouth watering. However, he worried about "irresponsible" chicken-keepers, like the Milwaukee residents who allowed their bird to escape and make its way across the Tosa border.

"There it is running loose on 66th Street," he said.

While Pantuso was hesitant, Alderman Dennis McBride voiced strong opposition. At a time when the city is facing budget constraints and the property maintenance department is having trouble keeping up with its existing duties, adding more work for staff isn't appropriate, McBride said.

"I'm very troubled by this," he said. "I'd rather keep police officers and firefighters than have fresh eggs."

Allowing residents to keep chickens would go against numerous ordinances meant to protect health, promote property maintenance and keep up property values, Assistant City Attorney Eileen Miller Carter said.

There also are noise disturbance issues, neighbor disputes and the possibility of attracting predatory animals like coyotes to consider. She recommended maintaining the prohibition in Wauwatosa.

Carter consulted the city's Board of Health, which discussed the issue earlier this year after resident Cornelia Beilke expressed interest in keeping chickens.

Beilke said she realizes there are rules prohibiting urban chicken farming, but she and a few other Tosa residents attending the meeting were interested in finding a way to change that.

"There are many cities and counties ... that allow it," she said. "Keeping chickens has become very popular nationwide."

Residents said growing food close to where it's consumed is an act of sustainability and provides a connection with their food source.

Alderman Jason Wilke said he'd like to see city staff take a more positive approach and find ways this could be accomplished.

He doesn't foresee a large demand. He spoke to Milwaukee representatives and learned 16 permits have been issued in that city.

"The risk is not as great as perceived," he said.

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