Urban chicken forum Thursday; proposed ordinance updated

A group of urban chicken supporters are hosting a forum on Thursday to discuss the upcoming ballot initiative.

Backyard Hens Yes! has set up a panel including a veterinarian, medical doctor, chicken owners, those who want to own chickens, gardeners and an organic farmer to share their thoughts on urban chickens and experiences in other Montana cities with chickens.

The forum is at the Great Falls Public Library at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 19.

Chickens were outlawed in the city during a 2007 revision of the animal code and City Commissioners voted in July to send the chicken question to the November ballot.

Chickens headed to November ballot, along with charter updates

The ballot question will read “Do you support allowing property owners to maintain domestic chicken hens, within the incorporated Great Falls City limits, subject to regulation established by the Official Code of the City of Great Falls?”

If more than 50 percent of voters say yes, the city will then develop an ordinance regulating the keeping of chickens within the city limits.

Assistant City Attorney has been working on a draft ordinance proposal, a version of which was presented to the commission this summer.

In the meantime, he’s been taking suggestions for the ordinance, primarily from the backyard hen group.

The current proposed ordinance would not apply to the R-1 residential rural zoning where maintaining livestock is permitted.

If chickens are approved on the ballot, the proposed ordinance would require city residents to get a permit and pay an annual fee to keep backyard chickens.

The permit process will include an application and inspection by Animal Control to ensure a coop and secure enclose as well as setbacks from the property lines and adjacent homes.

Animal Control will make a recommendation of approval or denial to the Great Falls Animal Shelter manager,who will make the final decision.

Hen permits would expire Dec. 31 of each year and require an annual fee that would be set by commission resolution.

Animal Control would also investigate all complaints concerning permitting or other violations that could result in the revocation or suspension of a hen permit.

Under the proposed ordinance, residents would be allowed up to six hens. Male chickens over the age of three months will be prohibited in the city. The proposal would require hen permit holders to place and keep a leg or wing band on all chickens, displaying the permit holder’s permit number, as a means of identification and proof of permitting.

If the ballot measure passes, the proposed ordinance includes shelter requirements that include a covered, secure, predator-proof outdoor chicken enclosure with at least 10 square feet of living space per hen that is also of sufficient size to admit free movement of chickens. Cover for an outdoor enclosure can include netting, chicken wire or other material to prevent escape.

Hen keepers must also have a covered, predator-proof outdoor chicken house that is thoroughly ventilated, provides at least two square feet of living space per hen to allow free movement of hens, and designed and built to be easily accessed, cleaned and maintained by the permit holder. The chicken house must be adjacent to and provide unrestricted access to the outdoor enclosure and all chicken coops and enclosures must be maintained to prevent the creation of a nuisance and/or a public nuisance. Coops would also have to be maintained to prevent offensive odors, persistent noise and the spread of disease.

The proposed code would require that the coops and outdoor enclosures be located no less than 30 feet from any dwelling occupied by someone other than the permit holder. The distance would be measured from the exterior of the coop to the closest exterior wall of the adjacent dwelling.

In no case, under the proposal, could a chicken coop be located closer than 15 feet to any property line as measured from the nearest exterior wall of the coop to the property line.

Chickens at large would be prohibited.

The proposed ordinance includes a process to investigate complaints, which may be filed in writing with Animal Control. If there’s a violation of the code, Animal Control can issue a warning so the violation can be fixed, or a notice to appear in Great Falls Municipal Court or refer the matter to the city attorney’s office for further action.

Under the current draft of the proposed ordinance, a conviction of any violation of the chicken code will be a misdemeanor punishable by a term of no more than six months in jail, a fine up to $500, or both. The court may also order any or all of the following conditions: relinquishment of any hens; relinquishment any roosters kept in violation of the code; revocation of the domestic hen permit; or destruction of an/or removal of any shelter maintained under the proposed city ordinance.