Animal expert gives Niles council favorable opinion of urban chicken ordinance

Allowing people to keep chickens in residential areas does not create very many issues in South Bend, according to the director of the city’s animal care and control division.

Speaking to the Niles City Council Monday, Matt Harmon said his department has received very few complaints since South Bend enacted its urban chicken policy in 2013.

“Our officers run thousands of calls a year and a very small portion of that is a chicken issue,” he said. “We haven’t seen many problems with the ordinance.”

The council invited Harmon to answer questions about South Bend’s urban chicken policy as the Niles City Council debates drafting its own proposal for allowing residential chickens.

City Administrator Ric Huff said Niles does not currently have a draft of the ordinance available because the city’s ordinance committee is still reviewing sample ordinances.

Harmon said the main concerns people have about chickens are of odor and chickens somehow getting loose and running free in the city.

Harmon said his department responds to calls for chickens getting loose about five or six times a year.

“We don’t get many,” he said. “Most of the time they are in the spring when chickens are being let outside for the first time and somebody doesn’t quite realize a chicken can get out of this one spot.”

As for odor, Harmon said that has not been a problem in South Bend either.

“People are often worried about the smell that might come from a chicken coop, but a maximum of six chickens cleaned on a regular basis does not produce any odor that we’ve noticed,” he said.

In South Bend, the city’s animal care and control division is the entity responsible for issuing permits for keeping chickens, doing inspections and enforcing the urban chicken ordinance.

Harmon said his department has nine employees.

Niles does not have an animal control division and relies on the Berrien County Animal Control Department to perform animal control duties.

That means the city would likely have to choose one of its own departments, such as the police department or code enforcement, to handle all things involved with having a residential chicken ordinance.

Mayor Mike McCauslin said he is opposed to having a chicken ordinance in Niles.

“I think there is a place for them, but it is not in my backyard or my neighbor’s backyard,” he said. “I don’t think it is fair to pile it on the fire department, code enforcement or the police department. We just don’t have the resources to handle the complaints and trust me, we are going to get complaints. It’s inevitable.”

Councilman Dan VandenHeede disagreed with the mayor’s opinion, saying progressive towns and cities are adopting similar ordinances all over the country.

“They are not experiencing many problems at all… I don’t see why we would have many,” he said.

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