Raising Chickens in Sterling Heights?
Over on the Nextdoor.com, a social media site for neighborhoods, a resident of the Cigarette sub asked whether or not it was legal to raise a few chickens on his property for the eggs. He stated that he wouldn’t keep a rooster, and the chickens would be ‘treated as pets, housed in a coop and run, not allowed free roam of the yard.’
In Sterling Heights, part of the zoning ordinance covers this. Here’s the relevant section:
Ordinance No. 278-NN, § 5, 1-6-09, in part, states: “SECTION 3.01. PERMITTED USES. The following uses shall be permitted, subject to the limitations of this ordinance: A. One family detached dwellings (subject to section 28.08); B. Agriculture, provided that on parcels of less than eight acres, there shall be no raising of livestock, fowl or other animals;” ….
Another poster to the site then said words to the effect that such a law was ‘ludicrous’ and mentioned the fact that people keep large dogs on their properties here, so what’s a few chickens. He commented “If you cant keep chickens, get them working on changing the rules. It’s ludicrous that people can keep like three St. Bernard’s on a residential lot, that poop a lot more than a few chickens, can maul people when they get out, bark at all hours of the day and don’t make you breakfast but…you can’t keep a few hens for eggs?”
Well, here’s where the trouble usually begins.
Somebody wants to do X. Someone else says “the law says you can’t do X”. Then yet someone else says “by golly, you should have the right to do X! It’s an injustice! Look, there are people doing Y! If you can do Y, then you should be able to do X! Get the law changed!”
Although I understand where the person arguing for changing the law is coming from, I would recommend to ANYONE wanting ANY sort of change to the law that a confrontational tone is not necessary nor will it be helpful.
Most of these laws have been in place for a very long time, and the current members of council quite frequently weren’t even in office when they were enacted. You might feel the law is ludicrous, and depending on who you ask, you might even find someone on council who agrees with you, but you will catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Trust me on this one: starting from the standpoint that a change to the law is your right is the wrong place to start.
In this case, this guy would be asking for a change to the zoning law. At a minimum this is a complex process. It is not impossible, but it wouldn’t be something that happens overnight. I am not sure how the council members would feel about changing the ordinance to allow raising fowl on lots in the city smaller than 8 acres; but he would need a majority of them (4 votes) to change the law.
With something like this, you will find that factions will quickly form within the city, and there will likely be just as many people opposed to the idea as are for it. It is very typical for people to react negatively to changes in the rules which affect their neighborhoods, I see it as a Planning Commissioner each and every month. Council members, in general, try to serve the residents as best they can, and if there is overwhelming opposition to something, it usually (but not always) doesn’t pass.
Changing something like the zoning law is unlikely at best, but not impossible. To be successful, a person would want the support of their neighbors. They would probably also want to have formed a group of residents also interested in changing the law and willing to stand with them in public meetings to show their support. They would have to be familiar with the current law, why it exists, and have some good reasons for wanting to change it. They would need a strategy for dealing with the opposition. I guarantee there would be opposition, and it would be powerful, so they would have to be very persuasive.
To sum up, if you want to change a law, you will need to have all of the facts at your disposal, have a plan crafted to persuade the powers that be to make the change, have a plan for dealing with (or better yet, compromising with) the opposition, and then you need to approach members of council to persuade them to make the change you want.
If, by some chance, you persuaded them to propose a change, the city attorneys would become involved in writing the ordinance change. When that was finished, there would be a minimum of two public hearings on the issue: an ordinance introduction, and a final vote, during two separate city council meetings.
If this sounds like a big project that will take a lot of time, effort, and perhaps not insignificant expense, you’re getting the right idea. This is not red tape or an unnecessary burden, by the way; this is how modern societies make peaceful decisions on how people can live among each other. This is much, much better than the alternative.
I am in my 11th year of being involved in city politics. I have seen a lot of ideas come and go, and I’ve seen some unlikely stuff succeed, but it is rare. What I do know is that an educated resident who is reasonable, persuasive and willing to become involved in the political process has a good chance of having an influence on what goes on in this town. It has happened for me. I have lost as many times as I’ve won, but I have managed to make a few small differences here and there.
I encourage everyone who reads this to educate themselves, learn about their local government, its elected officials, and become involved. It is best when this is not done as part of a crusade on any one particular issue, but rather as part of a sincere effort to become involved for the good of the city as a whole.
So… if you want to raise chickens in Sterling Heights, there’s a guy over in the Cigarette sub who might be right there with you. Go join Nextdoor.com and see if you can connect with him. I wish you luck.