Clinton Township board votes to allow appeals for chicken owners who may have violated ordinance

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published July 22, 2019

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — On July 15, the Clinton Township Board of Trustees unanimously approved the requiring of permits and a list of standards for residents to own chicken on properties that are less than 5 acres.

The ordinance, originally introduced June 15, aims to protect the public health, safety and welfare of the community, as well as to allow the raising of chickens for personal egg consumption on residential parcels.

Township Attorney Jack Dolan said other communities in both Macomb County and around the state have adopted such ordinances pertaining to chickens, including Warren, Eastpointe, Center Line, Roseville, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Dearborn and Canton Township.

“There’s been an emergence and a growing sentiment and expansion of people in residential areas raising chickens for purposes of personal consumption of the eggs they produce,” Dolan said.

This particular ordinance includes about 15 explicit sections related to the raising of chickens, including a maximum of four hens and no roosters due to noise. Other restrictions relate to the location and height of coops, the nature of constructions and measures related to adjoining properties.

“For some years, communities have dealt with the raising of chickens in residential areas,” he said. “We’re now at a point where we’ve had an opportunity to see how it’s been done, in some respects what’s worked and what hasn’t.”

A major aspect of the ordinance involves the issuance of a permit to keep chickens on a parcel. Issued by the township Building Department, permits last for a period of three years and can be renewed once they expire.

A caveat is that if three violations occur under the ordinance, permits shall not be subject to renewal.

Trustee Mike Keys suggested that the township deter complaints from neighbors and instead rely on the Building Department for the issuance of any potential violations.

“We’re trusting the Building Department, who knows the ordinance and has an understanding of what the township is looking for, that goes out there and verifies these — instead of pitting neighbor-against-neighbor type of actions,” Keys said.

Supervisor Bob Cannon said that part of the ordinance gives “the neighborhood an opportunity to weigh in on whether they want chickens next door to them.”

Trustee Ken Pearl stated how past cases in front of the Zoning Board of Appeals were “quite controversial” due to neighbors not being on board. He questioned the timing of approval and whether it would coincide with the issuance of a complaint, impacting someone’s personal investment.

Building Department Superintendent Barry Miller lives on a 3-acre parcel and empathizes with the financial investment.

“I have chickens. When you decide that you’re going that route to have chickens, there’s a substantial investment in that,” Miller said. “I have well over $1,000 in that coop; they’re well cared for. … I don’t know if that’s the right decision for that purpose. It’s an investment when you decide to go that route.”

Irene Ney is a 40-year resident who has kept hens in the past. She said that some people don’t realize it takes about four months before a hen even lays an egg.

“During that four-month time, you believe it or not develop a bond with that chicken,” she said. “Chickens are a lot like dogs: they have personalities, they recognize their owners, they can come (when) their name is called. They’re like dogs with feathers.”

She said that currently, neighbors don’t have to seek permission from neighbors in order to own “conventional” animals like dogs, cats or rabbits. Written consent from neighbors could be problematic.

“This is an unconventional pet, and I realize that,” Ney said. “But I don’t think that my neighbor should have the right to deny me to own that chicken. … Everybody knows that every neighborhood has that one neighbor who believes it is their right to be intrusive on everything that everybody does in the neighborhood.”

Clerk Kim Meltzer called the ordinance “a great quality-of-life attribution,” acknowledging that not all residents may agree. Treasurer Paul Gieleghem said residents “have a certain set of rights.”

The board compromised, with Keys making a motion to add a provision to the ordinance to establish a written appeal process to the Zoning Board of Appeals within a 14-day time period.

Another provision included that no covered enclosure shall be located closer than 60 feet to any occupied residential structure.

It was approved by a 7-0 vote.