Chesterton Tribune



Squawk over chickens muted for now; Porter department heads given kudos

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Porter Town Council member David Wodrich moved to amend the zoning ordinance regulating backyard chickens, but the motion died for lack of a second Tuesday.

The council took public input on the matter followed by council members Jeannine Virtue, Elka Nelson and Rob Pomeroy expressing concern over relaxing the rules as suggested. President Greg Stinson was absent.

Police chief James Spanier said the current Porter ordinance regulating urban chickens was adopted in 2005 and modeled after Valparaiso’s at that time.

In May, Porter resident Laura Madigan asked that the town allow chickens on smaller residential lots than the current 5-acre minimum. After last night’s meeting she urged supporters of urban chickens to keep coming back.

"I think if more people are concerned about it, it might make a difference if it’s brought up repeatedly,” she said.

Madigan removed her chickens after learning they weren’t allowed on her property because of its size; Tuesday she told the council that chicken owners have no right to conduct an illegal activity, but they do have a right to challenge an unreasonable ordinance.

Also speaking to relax the rules were Eric Joll and Journey Joll; he brought the matter to the council in 2013 but the issue was never revisited.

This time, six residents as well as council members presented opinions on property rights versus municipal zoning, enforcement, fresh eggs for a healthier lifestyle, and whether chickens are pets or farm animals.

Wodrich, a restaurant owner, said he favors two chickens --- no roosters --- with restrictions and registration for a normal lot. He said chicken owners typically are dedicated, although Nelson said history hasn’t always proven that to be the case.

Virtue said it’s an invalid argument that property rights are being denied by not allowing chickens on smaller lots. A town can exercise control over property in a legal manner, she explained, and having chickens is a want, not a right, and no one has the right to conduct illegal activity.

Virtue also noted there is an expense to amending town ordinances and she’s not sure it’s warranted at the request of two families, especially when more people she’s talked to are opposed to or neutral about it than in favor.

Resident Norm Tapper, Madigan’s neighbor, said relaxing the rules regarding chickens would discourage potential buyers of adjacent property resulting in a lower property value; chickens also can carry disease and face being abandoned when they stop laying eggs, according to Tapper.

Madigan said there’s no evidence chickens lower property values, and dogs/cats can be considered nuisances as well, especially if allowed to run. Nevertheless, “You don’t say you can’t have beagles.” Wodrich agreed dogs can present problems for neighbors.

The concerns voiced are appropriate to talk about, said Madigan, but chickens shouldn’t be banned over a theoretical problem with no evidence to back up whether it actually occurs.

Eric Joll said one can get salmonella in a restaurant but they’re not banned. He said the discussion was turning into a pro-chicken and anti-chicken divide when there is a middle ground to be found through good enforcement of sensible regulations.

Resident Milissa Beale said she has 1 acre and her family eats a lot of eggs so she prefers to know where they come from. Chickens also offer the opportunity for 4H interaction. She called for further investigation but said a few chickens on 1 acre isn’t excessive.

Council member Elka Nelson said she did educate herself on the topic, including talking to people who tired of their chickens after a few years. If town rules are relaxed, Nelson predicted it could be an administrative nightmare to enforce new rules like requiring a license to keep chickens with several requirements involved.

Nelson also observed it can be more expensive per-egg when chicken upkeep is factored into the cost than buying organic eggs at the store. “I love grass-fed beef. Can I have a cow in the front yard?” she asked, reminding residents that restrictions as well as rewards come with living in a town.

Virtue asked whether the council wanted to let the current ordinance stand or begin the process of amending it, which would include a future public hearing. Wodrich called for changes, but no one else supported doing so at this time.

In other business:

*  It was kudos all around for town department heads and staff for helping put on a successful Family 4th Fest at Hawthorne Park, and the Duneland community fireworks at Indiana Dunes State Park. “I’m biased but we have some of the best personnel,” said Virtue. “It really makes the town proud.”

*  The council OK’d 4-0 a change-order to ongoing upgrades at the Triangle lift station resulting in a $4,770 credit.

*  Director of development Michael Barry presented but the council deferred action on accepting a bid to hook up nine lift stations to interface with a portable pump in case of emergency. The project is required under an agreed order with the State of Indiana. Action is anticipated at the July 22 meeting.

*  Barry thanked the Porter Fire Department dive team for unplugging a pipe at Hunters Glen

*  Park director Brian Bugajski said tee shirts and can coolers with the Porter logo are still available through the Park Department website and Facebook page. He announced a recycling dumpster will be in Hawthorne Park July 10 and 11 as a fundraiser to support the summer park program’s trip to an Illinois zoo.

*  Bugajski thanked everyone involved in the Family 4th Fest. “It was a team effort.” He said it was the Independence Day festival’s biggest crowd ever.

*  Public Works superintendent Brenda Brueckheimer asked for residents’ patience in having their downed branches from the June 30 storm picked up. Many town trees and limbs were downed in the fury and six lift stations temporarily were offline leaving lots of clean-up to complete, she said.

*  Insurance consultant Steve Brady said he wants the council to study more closely proposals from two finalists for 2014/15 employee health-insurance coverage. July 22 a decision is needed before the plan renews Aug. 1. Benefits, out-of-pocket, cost to the town and cost/risk to employees will be weighed.



Posted 7/9/2014