Council discusses allowing chickens as pets in Berkley

By: Mike Koury, | Woodward Talk | Published March 22, 2017

BERKLEY — The Berkley City Council is looking into an unusual ordinance amendment that would allow residents to house up to three chickens on their property for personal use.

The council held the first reading of an ordinance at its March 6 meeting that permits, regulates and establishes requirements relating to the housing and care of chickens.

Council discussed the ordinance with some skepticism and many poultry-filled puns, debating what impact allowing chickens in the city could have on Berkley.

 The ordinance proposed in Berkley would allow people to keep up to three chickens as pets and as a source of eggs.

The ordinance proposed in Berkley would allow people to keep up to three chickens as pets and as a source of eggs.

Photo provided by Bob Perye

“For me, it’s more of an issue of proximity,” Councilman Dan Terbrack said. “Our houses, our yards — we’re very close. We don’t have a ton of huge lots where you can have a chicken coop that may not disrupt you or (cause a lot of) noise.”

Terbrack also said he has a worry when it comes to chickens potentially attracting rats in Berkley, which has had a rodent problem for some time.

“The key word, again, comes down to responsible pet owners,” he said. “We have a number of pet owners in the city that maybe are not as responsible as we would like them to be when it comes to picking up after their pets. And I worry that adding another option for pets may directly contribute to the rodent problem that we are already fighting, it seems, fairly constantly. Practically, it does not make a lot of sense to me.”

Terbrack went on to say that he doesn’t feel it is the right time for Berkley to bring chickens into the city, but he feels it potentially could be looked at later.

City Manager Matthew Baum-garten, who previously worked in Lathrup Village, which passed a chicken ordinance, said there was some opposition in Lathrup Village and that only a small group of people took advantage of the ordinance.

“I did see that, for the most part, we did not have any issues with the rodent issues,” he said. “But again, the proximity to other homes is certainly different here, and it might be more of a nuisance to your surrounding neighbors.”

Baumgarten said the ordinance doesn’t focus so much on the animals, but on how they’re kept and the conditions they’re maintained in, such as the need for cleanliness and the size and structure of the coop. The ordinance does restrict homeowners to three egg-laying hens.

“This is not an opportunity for meat,” he said. “This is not an opportunity for, like, roosters or anything like that. These would be egg-laying hens that’d be kept as pets and to gather eggs from.”

Several council members did note that they had spoken to officials in different cities that have similar ordinances, and they did not report any issues with the chickens.

Multiple owners of chickens, both residents and prospective homebuyers, attended the meeting to speak in favor of passing the ordinance.

Resident Bob Perye, the man who “started this mess,” as he told the council, had his chickens in Berkley from when got them in 2014 until last September. He moved them to a friend’s house in Ferndale after the city’s animal control told him that they had to go.

It was then that Perye began working with Baumgarten on the ordinance proposal to change the law in Berkley and craft something that addresses the concerns that the public and other communities have had over the years, as well as make the ordinance friendly to those who’d like to take advantage of it.

Perye said he’s called code enforcement and inspectors in most of the surrounding communities in Oakland County to gather information on their experiences with chickens. 

“I asked them questions such as, ‘Has there been any problems as far as cleanliness?’” he said. “‘Has there been any problems with additional vermin? Has there been any problems with chickens getting out and terrorizing the neighborhood — ravaging gangs of chickens in the street?’ There isn’t. Full stop. There isn’t problems.

“This isn’t going to be a situation where you’re going to have 500 people sign up the next day, and then two months after that, it’s going to be teeming with chickens and rats in the streets. It’s just not going to happen. We have plenty of circumstantial, as well as scientific, evidence for that.”

At the end of the discussion, the council agreed to table any decision on the matter and to hold a work session. Before the work session, the members will be able to visit some homes with chicken owners in attendance who have invited council members to see that there are no problems with their hens.