Neither the East Lansing City Council nor City Planning & Zoning Administrator Peter Menser seem eager to significantly change the City of East Lansing’s livestock ordinance despite holding a discussion at Tuesday’s discussion-only City Council meeting on possibly amending the ordinance to allow for residents to keep goats, ducks, or other livestock.
“I really love my neighbors,” said Council member Lisa Babcock, “but I might not love them so much if they had sheep or goats. And I might not love their sheep or goats at all, like in the backyard.”
Some East Lansing residents are interested in keeping livestock, but the City may continue to limit livestock to chickens only.
As ELi reported in 2020, East Lansing residents can keep up to four chickens on their property, but they must apply for a permit that is valid for five years and follow other rules as outlined by the City, such as providing a covered shelter for the chickens. Residents are prohibited from keeping roosters.
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, Deputy City Clerk Kathryn Gardner revealed that the City had 27 backyard chicken permits on file in 2019. During public comment on Tuesday, one resident called in to voice support of expanding the types of livestock permitted in East Lansing and to advocate for allowing sheep as well as ducks and goats.
Menser addressed Council about the possibility of permitting residents to keep goats, sheep, and ducks on their property, but most of his presentation focused on the possible downsides of allowing livestock on the grounds of single-family dwellings
“Certainly there is a vast difference in operational capacity for people who have animals at home. They’re only probably, typically as good as the people who have the property and take care of them,” sad Menser. “So then certainly everyone has different sensibilities in terms of enjoying their property and might consider to be a nuisance.”
The sensibilities that Menser pointed to were noises and smells related to keeping livestock that could disturb neighbors. It would be complicated, he said, to enforce noise ordinances should goats bleat too loudly.
Space, Menser told Council, was a major consideration — particularly for sheep and goats. Various recommendations exist for the amount of space livestock need, and in many neighborhoods in East Lansing, the lot sizes are fairly small. Neighborhood bylaws and master deeds could provide methods for entire neighborhoods to opt out of allowing livestock, according to Menser.
Current zoning laws may also make keeping specific animals difficult. Menser told Council that in many areas, houses are restricted to taking up 25 percent of the lot and overall impervious surfaces – things like patios, pools, and sheds that prevent the ground from absorbing water – are restricted to 40 percent of the total lot. Some residents could be unable to build a shelter for animals while observing current zoning laws.
Council members’ comments suggested that they shared Menser’s concerns but might permit a few changes to the ordinance.
Council member Lisa Babcock opened the discussion by referring to a short time she spent living in Maine on a property where sheep lived nearby.
“The neighbor had sheep. I had always thought of sheep as like these cute little cotton balls, you know,” said Babcock. “Sheep are loud and they smell terrible and they were shockingly big and occasionally — it seems hard to believe, but aggressive.”
Council member Dana Watson similarly had questions about how far the smells related to keeping animals could reach. She did not get a definitive answer.
Mayor Ron Bacon outlined a series of things that he thought needed further consideration, including minimum square footage needed to keep animals, neighbor consent, insurance riders, and code enforcement.
“Then a big concern would be, kind of, neighbor conflicts and then does that create additional touchpoints for law enforcement and other things along this line?” asked Bacon, hypothetically.
When Menser looked to Council member George Brookover to see if he had any questions or comments, Brookover responded with, “No, thanks.”
Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg was absent from the meeting.
But, a few possible changes to the ordinance did not seem completely out of the question.
Babcock thought allowing changes in areas in East Lansing that are zoned as agricultural might be appropriate.
Watson referred to some information she had found about other municipalities requiring that residents interested in keeping livestock receive permission from a certain percentage of neighbors within a certain range of their home.
Menser acknowledged that ducks and chickens are often grouped together in terms of regulation since they have similar needs in terms of space and feeding, potentially opening the possibility for more fowl to be kept in East Lansing..
“I don’t want to go any place on this thing,” Brookover said in closing but recommended that Menser speak to experts at Michigan State University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.