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Posted on Tue, Feb 28, 2012 : 5:57 a.m.

Ordinance to be drafted to permit backyard chickens in Chelsea

By Lisa Allmendinger

Belle, a live chicken, was given a bird’s eye view of the Chelsea City Council in action Monday night.

Wrapped in a towel, she sat quietly on Ana Hotaling’s lap while Chris Feleskey made a pitch for a group of residents who would like the city to change its zoning ordinance to allow a few hens on small lots for egg production.

Ana_Hotaling_and _chicken at _Chelsea_City_Council.JPG

Ana Hotaling holds a chicken named Belle at Monday night's Chelsea City Council meeting while a backyard chicken ordinance was discussed.

Lisa Allmendinger | Ann

And, although the chicken didn’t cluck her approval, the City Council directed City Manager John Hanifan to draft an ordinance for review that would permit backyard chickens.

“There is a lot of interest in this,” said Feleskey, the spokesman for the group of about 15 backyard chicken supporters at the meeting. “It’s an issue in town and it’s something that’s been changed in other towns.”

By a 4-2 vote, with Council Member Rod Anderson and Mayor Jason Lindauer voting against it, a majority of the council was willing to consider the issue. However, no specific date was given for crafting the ordinance and bringing it back for discussion.

Council Member Frank Hammer was absent from the meeting.

The backyard chicken group is hoping to be allowed to have a small number of hens on small lots in Chelsea, and they offered a sample ordinance for council consideration.

“My concern is the enforcement piece,” said Council Member Bill Holmberg, who added that this didn’t mean he’d vote against it, but “I will keep going back to it.”

Feleskey said neighbors are “the eyes and ears for complaints,” whether it’s the condition of a yard or noise or odor. “The community takes care of itself,” he said.

Besides, “free eggs are a great equalizer,” he said, which got a few laughs from the crowd.

Currently, the city’s ordinance allows chickens in three city zoning districts - one agricultural and two residential areas - however, homeowners must have at least 5 acres to legally house them.

According to the group’s draft proposal, three hens would be allowed on property up to .11 of an acre, four hens for property from 0.12 to 0.23 of an acre, six hens for property 0.24 to 0.35 of an acre and eight hens for property that is 0.36 to 4.99 acres.

No roosters would be allowed under the proposal.


Chris Feleskey addresses the Chelsea City Council about a backyard chicken ordinance while Ana Hotaling sits nearby with Belle, a live chicken, in her lap.

Lisa Allmendinger |

Council Member Rod Anderson said he had a number of concerns about this issue. Among those concerns was the “slippery slope” of allowing chickens in the city. “What happens when Ducks Unlimited comes to us? How do we rule them out?”

Lindauer agreed with the “slippery slope” concept, saying it was something that was a concern for all elected officials in the city, and he also questioned if the city can “undertake something like this with the current resources available (for enforcement) in the city.”

Also of concern for Anderson was that the Planning Commission had looked at this issue previously and decided not to change the zoning ordinance.

“They did a thorough job and we’d do a disservice to ignore them,” he said.

Anderson also questioned why backyard chickens were needed in the city when fresh eggs were available in rural areas so close to Chelsea. He also asked whether real estate values would decline in the city if someone was buying a house next to one with a chicken coop.

“My property values have fallen so far I can’t afford to move to a rural area,” where chickens are allowed, Feleskey said.

He said he looks at chicken ownership “as a property right’s issue and a sustainability issue. I’ve done a lot of research and I haven’t found one town that’s regretted its decision (to allow backyard hens.)

Lisa Allmendinger is a regional reporter for She can be reached at For more Chelsea stories, visit our Chelsea page.


gogol sobek

Wed, Feb 29, 2012 : 12:49 a.m.

I applaud Chelsea Council for taking a step in the right direction on this issue... a vote won, fair and square. Keep up the good work! An ordinance proposal drafted in a reasonable timeframe will continue to strengthen the trust and relationship between Chelsea and her residents.


Tue, Feb 28, 2012 : 7:48 p.m.

In speaking with the police department of a town that allow urban hens, they reported very few complaints about chickens and never any concerns regarding goats. So much for chickens being the gateway animal to goats. Guess chickens only lead to eggs.

Martha Churchill

Tue, Feb 28, 2012 : 6:08 p.m.

I am a member of the Milan City Council. I voted yes to a chicken ordinance, and the City of Milan now allows chickens (no roosters). Must have clean chicken coop safe from predators, and other conditions. This has not caused any problems. Everyone likes fresh eggs. The Milan City Council voted "yes" unanimously and no one has expressed any regrets.

Elaine F. Owsley

Tue, Feb 28, 2012 : 4:42 p.m.

I don't mind the deer that wander through my yard and occasionally nibble (I try to keep the plants they like sprayed), but 27 chickens on the loose, scratching and pulling up newly emerging plants of any green variety, can do a lot of damage. If neighbors want chickens, keep them penned up on their own property. My dog doesn't go into their yard because we have an invisible fence to keep her in ours. A pen should keep the chickens in their own yard.

News Watcher

Tue, Feb 28, 2012 : 9:20 p.m.

Understood. Our neighbor had an electric fence to keep her Corgis in. The Corgis still broke through and came over to our yard, pooped all over it, and even tried to attack one of our kids. They also barked all hours of the night. I would have much rather preferred that our neighbor owned a few hens that happily stayed in their enclosed run, ate all the pesky summer mosquitoes, and laid lots of eggs we would have bought.

Elaine F. Owsley

Tue, Feb 28, 2012 : 7:54 p.m.

newswatcher - just speaking from experience.

News Watcher

Tue, Feb 28, 2012 : 7:31 p.m.

Where did you hear 27 chickens??? The draft that the group presented had a range, depending on lot size, from 3 to 8 tops, I believe, and with the size of Chelsea lots, it'll probably be 3. And again, they'll be in a fenced enclosure during the day and a coop at night.

Elaine F. Owsley

Tue, Feb 28, 2012 : 1 p.m.

When they draw up whatever guidelines, be sure to deal with the problem of chickens running loose in any neighboring yards, pooping there and eating emerging plants. Sort of "not in your neighbor's backyard".

News Watcher

Tue, Feb 28, 2012 : 7:24 p.m.

Elaine, the submitted draft states that the hens have to be maintained in coops and night and enclosures during the day, unless the city manager chooses to see differently, that is. There would be very few escaping chickens, but supposedly these will be dealt with the same way neighborhood dogs who run loose in neighboring yards, pooping there, and digging in garden beds are dealt with.

Jeff Frank

Tue, Feb 28, 2012 : 3:45 p.m.

The multitudes of deer running around the city are far more likely cause damage than a hen or three. Believe me, I know... can't hardly find flowers that survive momma and her fawn(s), but I love seeing them playing my backyard so will deal with it.

News Watcher

Tue, Feb 28, 2012 : 12:52 p.m.

Given Chelsea's history as an agricultural town, with a large percentage of the greater Chelsea community still actively involved in farming, this measure was long past due. Yes, there will be residents who will remain firmly opposed to having neighbors with chickens. There are undoubtedly Chelsea residents who would like an ordinance calling for stricter dog control, too. What matters is that the ordinance to be drafted take into account placement of the coop with regard to property lines and include measures requiring maintaining the coop and yard clean. This should not be an issue: Most dog and cat owners do not allow their animals to live in filth. Most people who raise chickens don't, either, especially since they'll be collecting the hens' eggs to eat. Questions regarding enforcement for nuisance violations are legitimate; for guidelines, Chelsea can turn to Ann Arbor, Pinckney, Troy, East Lansing, Portage, and many of the other Michigan communities that allow chicken ownership. Cost for enforcement can be defrayed by the revenue received from chicken permit fees. Opponents Jason Lindauer and Rod Anderson have not hidden their negativity towards the idea of backyard chickens. Anderson has been very vocal. Lindauer seems opposed because he grew up on a Chelsea-area farm — his father still raises poultry — and now, as a public administrator, he may not want the agricultural past he left behind to catch up with him. For Anderson, it's a plain and simple case of "not in my backyard." He has repeatedly alluded to Chelsea as a city with fine dining, theater, and boutique shopping. He has noted that if people want to own chickens, they can move out of Chelsea and live someplace that allows them. He presents unfounded arguments which only underline the fact that he has done little research regarding the city chickens movement in Michigan, a textbook example of making noise before getting facts straight. Congratulations, Chelsea! Let's hope this moves forward s


Tue, Feb 28, 2012 : 11:24 a.m.

"Council Member Rod Anderson said he had a number of concerns about this issue. Among those concerns was the "slippery slope" of allowing chickens in the city. "What happens when Ducks Unlimited comes to us? How do we rule them out?" Lindauer agreed with the "slippery slope" concept, saying it was something that was a concern for all elected officials in the city, and he also questioned if the city can "undertake something like this with the current resources available (for enforcement) in the city." Silliness, especially theDucks Unlimited comment. It seems that these council members are just playing with the people.