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Backyard birds get brief reprieve as Cottage Grove council considers 'urban poultry' issue

Aria Olson holds one of her family's chickens while another is on a leash outside a shed behind their Cottage Grove home. Brian and Rykna Olson want the city to allow them to keep their three chickens as pets on their urban residential lot. They currently violate existing city ordinance. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente1 / 3
Brian Olson addresses the Cottage Grove City Council on Feb. 6. Olson wants his family to be able to keep their pet chickens on their urban residential lot. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente2 / 3
Rykna Olson closed the door of the modified shed that houses her family's three chickens. The Olsons are among two families who are requesting that the Cottage Grove City Council change an ordinance that currently prohibits them from keeping chickens or ducks at their homes. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente3 / 3

Puffin, Lucky and Caramel can stay in their Jeffrey Avenue home for at least a little longer.

The three chickens, kept as pets by Cottage Grove residents Brian and Rykna Olson, got a reprieve after the City Council agreed to consider allowing poultry and fowl on urban residential lots.

That decision last week allowed the Olsons to keep their three birds for at least another month, just as it also gave Cottage Grove resident Bob Burtman and his family several more weeks with their four ducks.

"Our ducks are members of our family," Burtman told the council Feb. 6, referring to the two mallards and the pair of Pekin ducks he keeps in a fenced-in garden outside his Harkness Court home.

The two families had been keeping the animals in violation of city ordinance. Two neighbors complained last year, bringing it to the city's attention and prompting the Olsons and Burtmans to request a policy change.

The council sought Cottage Grove Planning Commission review and recommendation. The planning commission, in addition to the city's Public Safety, Health and Welfare Commission, advised against allowing the birds on smaller urban lots. That would mean the animals kept by the Olsons and Burtmans would be in violation of city code and would have to be removed.

The council is expected to discuss the issue at its March 27 meeting and decide whether to keep existing city ordinance, which prohibits the animals on residential lots smaller than five acres, or to amend the ordinance and allow people to keep birds and ducks on smaller urban lots.

After Burtman and the Olsons addressed the council Feb. 6, Derrick Lehrke suggested he and fellow council members get more information and then vote on the issue.

"At the end of the day, we're the ones responsible for making a policy decision and I think we need to do that," added council member Justin Olsen.

Burtman and the Olsons each say only one of their neighbors has objected while others support their nontraditional pets. Rykna Olson said their chickens are popular with neighborhood kids.

They say their birds are quiet and don't smell any worse than dogs or cats. They don't have roosters, and Brian Olson said those birds shouldn't be allowed because they are loud.

"Chickens are not," he said. "They're calm and quiet."

The Olsons get about three eggs a day from their chickens, which are kept in a modified backyard storage shed that has a bed of straw from Rykna Olson's parents' farm in Wisconsin.

"They spend most of their day scratching around, picking up the sweet oats," she said while standing in the shed as the chickens picked at the ground.

Brian Olson is cautiously optimistic the council's decision will land in their favor.

"We're prepared for the negative outcome, but I think it's hopeful," he said of the council agreeing to re-examine the city policy

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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