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The flock thickens: Cottage Grove seeks more info on urban poultry issue

Cottage Grove resident Bob Burtman said his birds are more than just pets, "they are a part of our family." Burtman is one of several urban fowl owners fighting to change city code so that his four ducks can stay on his property. Bulletin photo by Emily Buss1 / 2
Two white Pekin ducks and two brightly colored Drake mallards take up residency outside Bob Burtman's Cottage Grove home. The four ducks have been the subject of complaint as the city continues to address fowl in urban settings. Bulletin photo by Emily Buss2 / 2

The debate over urban poultry in Cottage Grove remains unresolved as city officials continue to grapple with a solution to farm birds in residential neighborhoods.

After neighbors filed complaints to the city's Community Development Department last fall, the Cottage Grove City Council began looking into the issue. However, after several months of study, council members say they want more information.

"Unfortunately, I don't feel as educated (about this topic) as I would like to be," council member Justin Olsen said during a recent council workshop. "There are so many moving parts to this issue and I think those need to be nailed down before we proceed. I'd rather make a good decision than a quick one."

Current city code states that farm animals, which include chickens and ducks, are only allowed on "agriculturally zoned properties that are greater than five acres in size," thus making it illegal for Cottage Grove residents to keep fowl on their smaller residential lots.

However, the city has not enforced the ban while the issue is being considered by the council. That worried council member Dave Thiede.

"I have a concern for the neighbors," he said. "What if someone goes into a neighborhood expecting certain rules and suddenly they see a chicken in their neighbor's yard?"

Thiede said he was a proponent of having neighbors sign a form acknowledging their support for the urban poultry in order for a person to have chickens or ducks on their property.

Acquiring a petition of support is exactly what Cottage Grove resident Bob Burtman did. No stranger to farm birds, Burtman grew up surrounded by ducks.

"They are just wonderful animals," he said. "My mother lived on a farm growing up and when I was a young teenager she brought home a duck. I've had a passion for them ever since."

Burtman, who has had four ducks at his Harkness Court home for about a year, walked his neighborhood last September and collected signatures from all 19 neighbors in the area. The sheet showed many neighbors did not know Burtman even had the animals while others were in support because their children liked the ducks.

The duck owner also passed on his love of ducks to his two children, Dawn, 17, and Eric, 13, who treat their two Pekin ducks -- Sunshine and Butter -- and two mallards -- Donald and Duke -- just like any other pet. Yet while Burtman said his birds don't bother anyone, his neighbor who lives several dozen feet away disagrees.

"Everyone is looking at the positive side of owning these animals but they aren't thinking about the people who have health issues," the neighbor said at the council workshop. "There are allegories, feces, and on top of that, the noise factor. We have our right to peace and sanity."

The noise and nuisance ordinance in Cottage Grove restricts any animal from habitually making noise for "repeated intervals of at least three minute with less than one minute of interruption and audible off the owner's or caretaker's premises," a code Burtman says he abides by.

"The ducks don't bother anyone," he said. "They make noise when they hear me come home or when they know they are about to be fed but it's not habitual. Most neighbors don't even know I have the ducks."

Despite the fact that Burtman said the neighbor signed the petition of support citing "the kids like (the birds)," a disagreement over the animals continues.

At the request of the council, members from Chicken Run Rescue, a Minneapolis-based urban chicken rescue organization, will attend the April 3 council meeting to talk to city officials about fowl in urban settings.

"I would be heartbroken if (the ducks) had to leave," Burtman said.