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Tosans might be allowed to raise chickens after all

Panel recommends one-year trial period

Nov. 20, 2012

A panel of aldermen got a serious lesson in the care of poultry last week, and, then asked city staff to draft an ordinance that would allow residents to keep chickens on Wauwatosa properties.

Municipalities across the country, including Madison, Milwaukee, and even New York City, allow residents to keep chickens.

Seeing chicken-owning as a way to demonstrate sustainability, build community and educate children that not all food comes wrapped in plastic, the Community Development Committee voted, 6-2, in favor of an ordinance that would be modeled on Milwaukee's ordinance for a one-year trial, and provide an assessment of permitting and enforcement costs.

The response last week was markedly different from a discussion on the issue in May, which was received tepidly.

Aldermen Jeffrey Roznowski, Bobby Pantuso, Gregory Walz-Chojnacki, Dennis McBride, Jason Wilke and Kathleen Causier voted in favor of the motion, while council members Jim Moldenhauer and Cheryl Berdan voted against it.

Strict rules can be in place

Six residents spoke in favor of the change, including one who had owned chickens illegally in Wauwatosa until finally moving them to a farm. Milwaukee resident Alex Runner, who owns four hens, outlined the Milwaukee ordinance, which is so strict less than 20 residents had applied for permits.

The Milwaukee ordinance, enacted last year for 12 months, and renewed last summer, allows residents to own as many as four hens (no roosters permitted), requires a one-time payment of $35 and requires approval statements from neighbors. It also requires minimum coop sizes, sanitary standards and other items related to care. Enforcement, by the Department of Neighborhood Services, is by complaint only.

Runner said that he and others had been strongly encouraged to take a class in chicken care, although the Milwaukee ordinance does not appear to require it.

Allowing the raising of chickens is "just another way for Wauwatosa to set itself apart," resident Ed Buck said.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, people who handle chickens are not susceptible to salmonella, as long as they take simple precautions such as keeping cages clean and washing their hands after dealing with them, Tosan Cornelia Bielke said.

"Meeting neighbors kind of seals the deal for me," Walz-Chojnacki said.

Pantuso said he loved the idea of a course, which would demand a level of seriousness on the part of the applicant.

Chicken-raising is in line with the local food movement, Wilke said, and would teach kids the source of at least one of the things they eat.

"I think the health benefits outweigh risks," he said.

McBride said he was predisposed against allowing chickens, but, given the information presented by Runner and others, was willing to give it a try.

"If it won't work, we'll find out in a year," he said.

Worries about nuisance factor

"I'm not in favor of this at all," said Moldenhauer, who with Berdan voted "no."

The small lots in his district would make chickens a nuisance, he said, and his constituents were "quite amazed that we're even considering this."

He also said it would redirect the resources of the Health Department to a small group of people, and, moreover, heavy egg consumption is unhealthy.

Berdan said she agrees with Moldenhauer.

"I have four grown children, and they know where their food comes from," she said.

People buy chickens and ducks as gifts for children every year, she said, and they are rarely cared for.

"Asking neighbors about having chickens is not the only way to build community," she said.

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