Ypsilanti Township to begin developing backyard chicken ordinance
Ypsilanti Township is moving forward with developing an ordinance that will allow residents to keep chickens in their backyards.
The decision came after some 40 residents showed up in support of the idea at the Board of Trustees meeting on Monday.
No action was taken, but Supervisor Brenda Stumbo told the audience that the township’s legal and planning departments would take up the issue.
A change to the zoning ordinance would have to go through the planning commission and subsequently be approved by the Board of Trustees. But some proponents say backyard chickens are allowed under the state’s Right To Farm Act and the current ordinance that doesn’t allow them isn’t enforceable. That would mean a new ordinance wouldn’t be necessary.
Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com
Stumbo said Township Attorney Doug Winters would investigate that argument. Even if it is found to be true, repealing the current zoning ordinance would have to be done through the planning commission and receive board approval.
The current ordinance doesn’t allow chickens on residential properties under five acres.
The push for an ordinance accommodating backyard chickens started after Ypsilanti Township resident Jaclyn Baublit was ticketed for having backyard chickens.
According to Mike Radzik, Director of the Township’s Office of Community Standards, the township received a complaint on January 9 from one of Baublit’s neighbors who said the chickens were noisy and caused an odor.
Baublit lives on a small parcel on Lexington Parkway off Clark Road in a neighborhood in the northern part of the township.
An ordinance officer inspected the property and found the chickens, Radzik said. He posted a notice of violation explaining the ordinance violations and ordering the chickens removed within seven days.
The officer returned on January 19, Radzik said, and it appeared the chickens were gone. But the same neighbor, who is fixing up a once-abandoned home next door but doesn’t live there, again complained about the chickens on January 31.
The ordinance officer returned but again didn’t find any chickens, so officials told the neighbor to get evidence to prove that the chickens were there. Radzik said a Washtenaw County sheriff's deputy who was aware of the situation saw the chickens on February 8 and alerted township officials.
That led the township to issue a $100 ticket for the ordinance violation.
Because it’s a civil infraction, the case went in front of 14B District Court Judge Charles Pope, who found Baublit’s boyfriend — the property owner — responsible on March 20.
Baublit said the chickens are now staying with friends in Saline while advocates work to get a new ordinance on the books.
Backyard chicken supporters are proposing a new ordinance that allows residents to keep up to six hens — but not roosters, because they make more noise — on a property with a single-family home.
The proposed language says the hens should be provided with and kept in covered or fenced enclosures at all times. The hens would have to be kept in the backyard, and feed and other items that could attract rodents or bugs must be properly stored.
Proponents also sought to clear up common misconceptions about chickens. Angela Barbash, who is part of the New West Willow Neighborhood Association, provided a “fact sheet” about chickens. She contended:
- Hens make only make a soft clucking noise and are quieter than most dogs.
- Rodents are only attracted to chickens feed is left open, as is the case with any unprotected food source.
- There is no evidence to support that chickens decrease property values, and alternately could actually attract new homeowners who are friendly to local food and sustainability movement.
- Chickens do not carry or spread diseases and eat ticks and insects.
Baublit stressed that she prefers having fresh eggs from her own chickens, which is important to the increasing number of people who own hens.
“This ordinance is behind the times and something needs to be done about it,” she said.
Stumbo asked how many people in the audience were in support of an ordinance. Around 40 people raised their hands, and no one raised their hand when she asked if anyone was opposed.
She said she supports developing an ordinance but also wants to receive input from the neighborhood associations. She said she discussed the idea of a similar ordinance with some neighborhood groups last year and there was little support, mostly because of fears of the odor.
Baublit said she was pleased with the board’s receptiveness and said she thought the meeting was promising.
“I think we’re headed in the right direction,” she said, adding that she and others will meet with neighborhood groups to provide information and be more involved.
“I’m glad so many people showed up in support,'' she said. "There needs to be a few people willing to take responsibility, and it’s hard work, but it will be worth it.”