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Chickens get the cold shoulder

There won't be any backyard chickens in West Fargo anytime soon.

After heated discussion Monday night, city commissioners unanimously struck down a proposed ordinance change that would have allowed residents to house up to four hens in backyard coops, with the consent of surrounding neighbors.

West Fargo residents Justin and Ashley Morken had asked for the change to advocate sustainable living. They cited other cities that have similar ordinances promoting urban agriculture, including those regionally such as Fargo, Grand Forks, Fergus Falls and Minneapolis.

But during Monday night's commission meeting, several West Fargo residents - including many from the Morkens' neighborhood in north West Fargo's Goldenwood subdivision - voiced adamant opposition to the proposal.

The 40-minute discussion grew heated at times, as passions flared on both sides of the issue.

Three people, including Justin's father and Goldenwood developer Jim Morken, spoke in favor of the ordinance.

"I don't know what we're making such a big deal out of this for," Jim Morken told the commission. "Anytime we can grant more rights, we should - as long as it doesn't provide a nuisance or is a hazard or a danger to somebody. ... You've got a lot more problems with dogs than you would ever have with hens."

Horace resident LaRae Storer told the commission that she chose to live in Horace - rather than West Fargo - because she could keep chickens in the backyard. She said she hasn't experienced any issues with her neighbors.

"This is the way our culture is moving," Storer said. "People that are in their 20s and 30s - they want to recycle more, they want to take care of their environment, they want to know where their food is coming from."

However, at least four residents spoke against the proposal, with at least a half-dozen others sitting in the audience in support.

"You should build on a farm if you want farm animals," said resident Kim Schaeffer, who lives on Goldenwood Drive with the Morkens.

West Fargo commissioners said they'd received numerous e-mails and phone calls from residents, since the meeting two weeks ago when the commission first discussed the ordinance change.

"I truly believe that our city doesn't want this at this time," said Commissioner Mark Simmons, who originally voiced opposition to the proposal.

The Morkens said that even if the ordinance had passed, they wouldn't have gotten the hens because of the discontent in their neighborhood.

"It never has been a really big issue for us. We just thought we'd try and see what happens," Ashley Morken said after the meeting. "The relationships in our neighborhood and our community are way more important to us."