Speckled Sussex hens, from left, Tamago, Sasami and Momo stand inside a metro Detroit chicken run. While raising backyard chickens is basically banned in Sterling Heights, the city plans to ask residents about their opinions on the topic in an upcoming community survey.

Speckled Sussex hens, from left, Tamago, Sasami and Momo stand inside a metro Detroit chicken run. While raising backyard chickens is basically banned in Sterling Heights, the city plans to ask residents about their opinions on the topic in an upcoming community survey.

Photo by Eric Czarnik


City of Sterling Heights to poll public on pet poultry

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published April 23, 2021

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STERLING HEIGHTS — The city of Sterling Heights will hold off on a decision on whether to allow residents to own backyard chickens until a flock of survey respondents give their opinions.

During the April 6 Sterling Heights City Council meeting, resident Brandy Wright asked for an update on what the city is considering doing about backyard chickens. She added that Councilman Michael Radtke had previously proposed looking into the issue.

“A number of communities in our area do allow for backyard poultry, including Ann Arbor, which I know we like to compare ourselves to. So if they can do it, why can’t we?” Wright said. “And you can easily charge for a permit fee so the city will know who begins and can go around and make sure we’re following the rules.”  

Under Sterling Heights’ current rules, chickens are included in the agricultural definition of “livestock, fowl or other animals.” That means residents aren’t allowed to raise them on land parcels fewer than 8 acres.

Other cities in the metro Detroit area allow backyard chickens, including Ferndale, Madison Heights and Warren. Typically in the suburbs, the laws regulate coop standards, restrict the number of birds and often ban roosters.

In response to Wright’s question, City Manager Mark Vanderpool said the city has agreed to ask residents about the backyard chicken issue, among other things, in an upcoming community survey. The survey will go out to a representative sampling of residents this year.  

The City Council approved its survey contract April 6 as part of its consent agenda. The community survey will cost the city $21,500, and it will be done by Kansas-based ETC Institute, who ran the city’s last survey in 2017.

The new survey is supposed to gather at least 500 finished responses via a random sample mailing. According to a memo from Sterling Heights Community Relations Director Melanie Davis, the results should be made public by July.

Earlier this year, the chicken issue came up at the Jan. 26 special City Council meeting involving strategic planning. During public comment, another resident advocated backyard chickens, adding that the birds are fun, beautiful and therapeutic.

“They have lots of benefit for us,” he said. “The chicken can eat all the bugs and all the insects, and they give us organic eggs. … They help humanity. And the chickens, they’ve been with the human being for thousands of years, just like dogs and cats.”

At the same meeting, City Manager Mark Vanderpool said the topic might be more complicated than it seems on the surface, but he said including it in the community survey was a good idea.

Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor said it’s likely that any road to a policy change potentially legalizing backyard chickens would take about a year to come to fruition. He said the city has to balance “a lot of considerations” and weigh the pros and cons.

“It doesn’t look like we have consensus right now to bring an ordinance,” Taylor said. “It’s hard to get a new policy like that implemented within a matter of days or weeks. … While I understand you’re very passionate about it, and it’s important to you, we have an obligation to consider the other people in the city who might not want chickens being kept by their neighbors.”

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