Park River City Council votes to put chicken issue on citywide ballot
Poultry ownership to be
settled during June election
PARK RIVER – About 40 people packed the conference room in the Park River City office building for its regular December meeting.
The topic getting all the attention was whether or not to uphold or modify the city’s decades-old policy regarding the raising of livestock within the city limits.
At the center of the controversy is city resident Teresa Gire who was told in November that she was in violation of the ordinance and would have to get rid of four chickens that she’s been raising in her backyard for the past three years.
At a special meeting of the Park River City Council on Nov. 20, council members, by a 3-2 margin voted to uphold the city ordinance that was possibly written as early as the 1930s.
That ordinance was revisited Thursday with the full council present and Park River Mayor Dan Stenvold officiating.
Prior to discussion on the matter, Stenvold asked the crowd assembled, by a raise of hands, who was in favor of keeping the ordinance against livestock, including chickens, the way it was. Four persons, identified as “pros” raised their hand.
After asking who was in favor of changing the ordinance, identified as “cons,” nearly the entire room raised their hands.
Stenvold said he would allow each person, who would like to have themselves heard, have three minutes to air their opinion.
Gire was the first to talk and read from a prepared statement.
Gire told the council that her chickens are kept in a locked containment area in her backyard.
“The containment area is to protect the defenseless birds from the stray cats and dogs that are continually running at large in the city of Park River,” she said.
She went on to say that she keeps that area clean and disposes of the bird’s waste out of town while other people in the city are allowed to bring manure into town to spread in their gardens. She also said she keeps her chicken’s feed in a metal container to keep rodents away.
Gire said she’s never had a complaint about her four hens and that her domesticated pets are very quiet.
“I think “domesticated” is a key word for approval of this ordinance,” she said. “They are not wild and therefore should be allowed in the city limits. Legalizing urban chickens could actually attract people to live in such a place that supports a close-knit community that this hobby creates.”
Gire said there has never been a documented case that having chickens within the city limits decreases property values.
She also said she e-mailed the council a letter from Veterinarian Nathan Kjelland from Golden Valley Veterinary Clinic to mayor Stenvold stating that there is no more health risk related to raising poultry as there would be for raising cats or dogs.
Gire said she has suffered great loss and grief in her life and raising her chickens has helped her cope with that grief.
“God gave me something as insignificant as a chicken to find some solace,” Gire continued. “My chickens have been more than pets to me. They have been my therapy birds and helped me in the grieving process.”
Deena Lorton, wife of councilman Mike Lorton, said if the ordinance was amended and each household decided to raise poultry, there could be up to 4,200 chickens, nearly more than four times as many chickens than people in the city of approximately 1,400.
“Even if half the people decided to do it, that’s 2,000 chickens. That could open up a lot of doors for a lot of things,” she said. “I think the people of Park River need to decide if they want it (chickens) or not.”
Resident Jevon Dahl said he raises 10 chickens in his backyard in town and never had a complaint. He said if the people who bring all manner of animals into town to show at the Walsh County Fair each year can continue to do so, people should be able to raise chickens in town.
Darrel Larson said he was for keeping the ordinance as is. He argued that allowing chickens in town would drastically reduce property values.
“You’re going to reduce property values by thousands of dollars if you go with this program,” he told the council.
Larson also urged council members to not let emotions get in the way and vote against amending the ordinance for the betterment of the city.
Kimberly Blake and Kimberly Lundquist, the wives of councilmen Karl Blake and Bob Lundquist both said their husbands called several constituents in their ward and couldn’t find anyone in favor of changing the ordinance. They also said their husbands had both taken flack and have been called names because of their stands on the issue.
“My husband has been dragged through the mud in this process and is stressed beyond belief,” Kimberly Lundquist said. “Not everyone is pro-chicken. I don’t mind chickens, but there is a right place for them.”
Joel Hylden said he is a resident in Lundquist’s ward and has raised all types of birds including chickens, ducks, turkeys and peacocks over the past 33 years. He said that in all that time he’s had just two complaints about noise and never a complaint about rodents or smell.
Hylden said that if the ordinance changed, he doesn’t expect there to be an explosion in chicken ownership.
“For the past 30 years, I’ve been a member of a club and we’ve tried get people to raise birds in this town. For all that time we have not succeeded in getting one additional person with the exception of Teresa on her own to do it,” he said. “I don’t think allowing people to raise chickens is going to add too many more people to the list. The threat of 4,200 chickens is just bogus.”
After feedback from those in attendance, the council got down to what to do about the situation.
Councilman Dwight Bryon said that he had never been involved with changing an ordinance and suggested the matter should be forwarded to the planning and zoning committee for their recommendations.
“None of the planning and zoning commission are on the city council,” Bryon said. “They’re citizens of Park River. I think they should do some research for us and give us their recommendations.”
Councilman Lundquist said that the city council already ruled on the matter at their special meeting Nov. 20 and as far as he was concerned the matter is closed.
“A lot of this has been carried too far by somebody giving false hope,” he said. “To me it’s done. That’s my thoughts.”
However, he said to resolve the issue, he feels the only thing to do is to put the matter to the citizens of Park River in a citywide election in June.
“It’s up to the people of Park River to make their choice and that’s the way it is.”
“I totally agree with that,” Stenvold said. “This is a democracy. We’ve let the people speak here tonight, let them speak at the ballot box. That’s what I’ve wanted to hear since this whole thing started.”
Lundquist went on to say that he is tired of taking abuse over this issue.
“I’m tired of being called an idiot. I’m tired of being told my head is in the sand and so forth and I’m tired of getting calls at work,” he said.
Lundquist made the motion to put the ordinance on the ballot and it was seconded.
During discussion of the motion the question was asked whether the ballot would be a “yes” or “no” on the present ordinance or if an alternative ordinance, allowing for the raising of poultry will be put on the ballot as well.
Hylden said that having a strictly “yes” or “no” vote would be unfair.
“I think we should have a second ordinance set already and let the people decide which one they want,” he said. “It should be an ordinance that is acceptable to Teresa and myself and other people who are for it.”
Lundquist made another motion to amend the original motion to have three council members sit on the planning and zoning committee, but it died for lack of a second.
Council members unanimously passed an amendment to give voters two choices in the June election.
One choice would be the ordinance as it is written prohibiting all livestock in the city and the other an alternate, drafted by the planning and zoning committee and ultimately approved by the council allowing some form of poultry ownership within the city limits.
The amended motion passed with a all council members, Lundquist, Blake, Lorton, Byron, Arvid Knutson and Keith Anderson all voting in favor.
Stenvold said that all persons currently raising chickens in the city limits would be allowed to keep them, at least until the June election.