In this month’s county commissioner meeting, 15-year-old Luke Howard and his family contested a letter from the Adams County Commission that prevented him from owning chickens within city limits. Although Anthony Larson, Chris Schauer, and Daniel Graham attended the meeting to support Howard’s request for chickens, they were unable to overturn the objection.
The objection read:
“…On behalf of the taxpayers and citizens of Adams County who own the county property located at 602 Adams Avenue, we feel it is in the best interest of all, to oppose the granting of a permit to allow chickens within the city limits and especially in residential or business areas of Hettinger.”
To meet the requirements for the Animals and Fowl Ordinance passed in August, the Howards sent written notices to 23 adjacent property owners surrounding their house and one to the Adams County commissioner office in order to secure a chicken permit.
If the Howards did not receive any written objections to possess chickens, they would be eligible for a permit. However, in last month’s City Council meeting, the Howards were presented with a single written objection from the Adams County Commission.
“We have discussed it, and our former chairman was at the city council meeting and discussed our concerns,” said county commissioner chairman Dustin Laufer in this week’s county commissioner meeting. “I don’t know that there has been any change in the commission’s stance on the issue.”
Luke Howard pressed the commissioners asking, “What are the reasons for signing [the written objection]?”
Laufer continued to express why the council submitted a written objection to Howard’s request for chickens.
“One of my biggest concerns was the dogs barking,” said Laufer, “Have you talked to the health department or anything about manure management?”
“No,” replied Howard, “but the manure is compostable and chickens do not leave as much manure in a year as compared to animals like dogs.”
County commissioner Kathy Vliem offered a compromise, asking Howard if it was possible the chickens could be raised on a facility like the one Bill Austin offered 4H and FFA youth organizations for similar projects.
Chris Schauer, one of Howard’s supporters present at the meeting, responded to the compromise saying that both Howard and himself had come to the conclusion that the facility in question was not adequate for raising chickens.
Schauer continued, “Without offending anybody, I don’t understand the opposition [to owning chickens in town]… This is a national trend. This is something I find almost laughable when small towns won’t sign off on something like this. Minneapolis allows up to 30 [chickens], San Antonio allows up to 8.”
“Las Vegas, you can get 10 [chickens],” added Howard.
“We talk about trying to encourage youth to know where their agriculture comes from,” said Schauer, “ If Hettinger can’t do it, I’m not sure where in the country you can.”
Laufer reassured Howard that the objection was nothing personal.
“I admire what you are doing. I think you are doing good things by standing up for what you believe and working in agriculture.”
Although Laufer supported the Howard’s engagement in local government, he remained firm on his belief that chickens do not belong in town. Laufer also made a point that the county commission made their decision based on how the birds might affect courthouse and law enforcement employees.
Kerri Howard, Luke Howard’s mother asked, “So from here on out, anyone who lives within 300 feet of county property, good riddance? You have no chance of raising chickens?”
Laufer replied, “Like I said, there’s nothing personal. We will not treat any request to own chickens next to the courthouse any differently.”
Laufer ended the session notifying the Howards that they would discuss the issue later in the meeting, giving Kevin Pagel, the new county commissioner, a chance to give his input.
Originally, when the commissioners voted to submit the objection letter, Kevin Pagel, the new county commissioner, was not yet sworn in.
“We will discuss it further. I’m not guaranteeing that we will even vote on it again, but we will discuss the pros and cons.”
Later in the meeting, the commissioners discussed the issue. After deliberations they agreed to not change the original objection and never formally voted on the issue.
The next day, the both Luke and Kerri Howard went to the city council in hopes to amend the Animals and Fowls ordinance and make it less restrictive. There, they argued that the county commissioners are not property owners and therefore their written objection should not be considered.
Although the city council considered their request, they decided not to change the interpretation or amend the Animals and Fowl Ordinance.
“So all those months of getting [research] together, the eleven meetings that Luke has attended has been a waste of time?” asked Kerri Howard, “Anyone within 300 feet of county property… 39 residential properties plus ten others have no chance of owning chickens or taking advantage of this ordinance because you are going to require the commissioners to sign off on a property they don’t own.”
City council member Curt Drolc suggested waiting to give other people in town a chance to apply for a chicken permit before adjusting the ordinance.
City council member James Lindquist concluded by saying, “… I wish the council could help more, but unfortunately, this is, I think, where we stand, as of now. It is unlikely we will be revisiting this issue for some time…”
When asked what Luke Howard’s next step forward was for obtaining chickens, Kerri Howard replied, “We are feeling kind of at a loss… We don’t know, we don’t really have a plan at this point. What we are hoping is that other people apply [for chickens] and if other people run into the same road blocks maybe the city council might see that [the ordinance] is too restrictive, and people aren’t able to work within these restrictions. Or if people do get the permits, the commissioners will see that people are having chickens in town and they are not causing a problem… Either way, whether they get the permit or not it’s a positive thing. I’m hoping lots of people do apply…”