By Cara Baker
So I'm not entirely sure why and when my obsession with backyard chickens started...but it did....and now, I’m fighting city hall (literally and figuratively!) In late August, 2011, a local gentleman with chickens and ducks as pets in our city, was cited for a zoning violation - you apparently can't have anything other than typical 'pets' in our city limits. His story ran in our local paper and I started doing some research into the backyard chicken 'movement'....I also have a couple of friends with backyard chickens, so at some point it had gotten into the back of my mind already. I followed the case via the internet and local paper. The "chicken gentleman" filed a motion to amend the ordinance to allow chickens. The Planning Commission did their dutiful job and researched other backyard chicken ordinances throughout the state and made a recommendation to the City Council to approve a change in the zoning ordinance...this would allow for chickens with stipulations (like several other Michigan cities have done....Traverse City, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, East Lansing, etc....) Given the recommendation by the Planning Commission to the City Council to approve the amendment, I didn't go out of my way to press the issue...doh. The City Council voted down the change, thereby affirming the current ordinance not allowing any animals other than 'typical pets' and forcing the "chicken gentleman" to give up his animals. Truth be told - I was really upset. I'd now spent a month or two getting to know chicken care. I researched city-appropriate coops and plans, etc. I found hatcheries and studied different breeds and picked the ones I wanted. I found myself on a website and forum called backyardchickens.com that has been incredibly helpful. And there, I learned that Michigan has one of the strongest Right to Farm Acts in the United States...and low and behold, if done properly, my backyard chickens would be protected. Agriculture has, and will likely continue to be for quite some time, a leading economy in our state. And while I don't intend to become a full-time farmer, the law, as it was stated, dictated that I could farm anywhere.
Since that time, I have exchanged letters back and forth with the city, fighting for protection for my future farm under the Michigan Right to Farm Act. The city denied my rights, and recent changes to the GAAMPS made my previously very valid arguments even more null and void as far as ‘they’ were concerned. I requested that the Zoning Amendment be put back before the City Council, and was told that there was not enough support, and that the Planning Commission had no intentions of addressing the issue again. I started an online petition that garnered over 150 signatures. I was interviewed by our local newspaper, as was another local activist (who lives in an outlying township, and whose RTFA protection was affirmed by their governing body). I started the Backyard Chicken Keepers of Michigan Facebook page, which now is just shy of 800 ‘likes’, with new folks joining every day.
And now, nearly three-and-a-half years after the ‘no’ vote that crushed my dreams…I’m trying again. I spoke with the Planning Commission to confirm that I knew what procedures I had to follow in order to bring the zoning amendment in front of them again (and then hopefully on to the City Council). It takes submitting an all new Petition, complete with a $325 fee, as well as showing lots of support. I have heard that city staff stated that previous public opinion was against this ordinance change. However, I strongly believe this is NOT the case. No one spoke in opposition of the change at the first Planning Commission meeting, with eight households showing support. At the second Planning Commission meeting, written opinions were one in support, and one in opposition, with three households speaking in favor of change, and only one in opposition. Again, it is clear; the voice of the people was speaking in favor of an ordinance change. Clearly, however, in the minds of the Planning Commission and the City Council, there was not enough support.
And that brings me here. I need support – both financially and otherwise. I’m requesting help in paying the $325 fee to submit the Petition for Zoning Text Amendment. And I’m requesting that Midland residents write letters, call the Planning Commission, and show up at Public Hearings. It will take a landslide of support to sway them. But I think the time has come.
You can find my GoFundMe account at http://www.gofundme.com/chickensformidland.
You can find me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/BYChickenKeepersofMI.
And you can find more details about my journey on my blog – the best post being