By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Cloquet resident Billie Waugh politely grilled members of the Cloquet City Council Tuesday over their failure Aug. 21 to take any action on a proposal to make raising chickens legal inside city limits.
Admitting first that her family had been in non-compliance with the city code forbidding chickens, Waugh said she was concerned the council’s silence on the issue was related to claims by another resident that the animals can infect humans with the sometimes fatal “blastomycosis” fungal infection.
“I’m concerned that Mrs. Wihela’s quotes in the [news]paper were a factor in your decision,” she said, alleging that Mary Kay Wihela’s claims were incorrect and noting that the council should try to educate itself on the issue rather than avoiding it entirely. “My husband is a veterinarian; he would be happy to discuss chickens and the risk of disease with you.”
Council members offered very little feedback to Waugh’s attempts to solicit the reason none of them cared enough to make a motion on a resolution the Planning Commission had recommended they adopt. Mayor Bruce Ahlgren, however, pointed out more than once that because the council never voted on the issue – rather, members simply failed to make a motion to approve or deny the measure – any member of the council could put it back on the agenda.
City Administrator Brian Fritsinger explained that there are two ways to revive the proposal to change city code to allow residents to raise chickens on lots smaller than the currently permitted 10-acre lots.
“Someone on the council can make a motion for it to be brought back, or an applicant can make a formal application for a zoning ordinance amendment, but that entails a fee and an application from one or more people. And even then, it’s up to the council,” he explained.
Diane Lambert, who requested the city council consider changing the city code in April so she and others could legally raise laying hens, told the council she felt like they didn’t vote because of concerns that were never voiced.
“I hope if people have questions or concerns that they would voice those,” she said, noting that it’s impossible to answer a question that’s never asked. “I heard some were concerned about property values or ‘saleability’ of land adjacent to properties with chickens. I talked to six major realty companies in Duluth [where it’s legal to raise chickens] and they all said it’s had no effect.”
After the meeting, Lambert said she felt like the city councilors were sending mixed messages because no one ever got in trouble for raising chickens – against city code – before she asked the city to change its laws. Now the Waugh family has less than a month to get rid of its chickens.
“I’m sure Mr. [Al] Cottingham [Cloquet City Planner] is not enjoying his job of taking children’s chickens away,” Waugh said.
“We’re not dropping this,” Lambert said.