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What a difference 5 years makes: Grand Rapids city reverses position on urban chickens

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

Michigan’s second largest city will welcome backyard chickens beginning this spring.

In the summer of 2010, Grand Rapids city commissioners narrowly rejected urban chickens. But the issue never died and really picked up steam last fall.

Three commissioners who voted against chickens five years ago changed their minds this time around.

Commissioner Walt Gutowski is one of them.

“As much as I’ve asked people 'What do you think about chickens?' I’ve only had 6 people say that they don’t want them,” he said.

Plus, the ordinance is temporary. If chickens don’t work in Grand Rapids, the law will expire automatically without commission action.

But people in Grand Rapids who want chickens should not run out and buy any fuzzy chicks anytime soon.

They’ll have to apply for a permit to keep hens. City Manager Greg Sundstrom estimates that’ll cost no more than a hundred bucks. But people must have a big enough backyard, a chicken coop that meets the city’s zoning and building codes, and the immediate neighbors get a say in allowing the chickens too.

Applications for permits won't even be accepted until May, when the new local law takes effect.

Commissioner Senita Lenear was the only one to vote against chickens.

She’s worried the birds could potentially spread salmonella among humans.

“We still don’t have an answer and that’s really my struggle. So it’s not, ‘I’m opposed to it,’ I just want to make sure that it’s done properly,” she said.

“I have a number of people wondering and asking questions, you know, ‘Hey we live in an urban environment and we’re not accustomed to this, what does this mean for my safety?’ I think we should address those questions,” she said.

City officials say there will be some education outreach to those who eventually apply to keep chickens on how to properly dispose of waste and prevent the spread of disease.

NPR reported on how the rise of backyard chicken-keeping has increased the spread of salmonella back in March 2013.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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