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Chicken-coop fire sparks town of Hudson zoning review

By Chuck Nowlen

The town of Hudson is reviewing its zoning-ordinance options after a fire last month at an “unauthorized” local chicken coop.

All of the birds were evacuated after four fire trucks responded to the blaze, Clerk Vickie Shaw reported at the Town Board’s March 25 meeting. The incident occurred around 8:30 p.m. March 7 at a residence on Hwy. 35, according to Hudson Fire Department records.

No one was injured, and a portable heating lamp is suspected as a possible cause, Shaw said. Hudson Town Hall was later billed for the incident as part of its monthly tab for fire-response services.

The board approved paying that bill without charging the property owner, since no apparent negligence was involved. But Supervisor Tim Foster wondered afterward whether zoning action might be called for.

“We’ve got a whole lot of chicken coops in this town,” Foster said. “What do we want to do about this?”

Electrical heating and fencing are often used by local chicken-coop keepers, Foster noted, adding: “I don’t know anyone who has chickens that doesn’t have electricity.”

Shaw reported that the city of Hudson, for example, requires 15 permits for chicken coops located on non-farm parcels, and Foster said the town’s best route might be requiring all non-farm town chicken coops to have special zoning exemptions.

No other fires reported

The town currently does not have a zoning ordinance that specifically applies to chicken coops, board Chairman Jeff Johnson noted in an interview after the meeting. He also noted that no other town chicken-coop fires have been reported in recent memory.

“Technically, our zoning is a little vague right now,” he said. “We’ve got ag-residential zoning and residential zoning, and with ag-residential, there are some requirements if there are farm animals involved.

“But, aside from waste concerns with larger ag operations, the big thing most municipalities’ requirements are concerned with is not having roosters on a site because they cause a lot of crowing, and that can bother neighbors. So, for the most part, if someone’s not causing any problems, our attitude has been, ‘Why start looking to regulate somebody who’s got five or 10 chickens that aren’t making any noise and nobody’s complaining?’”

He also worried about the time and cost involved with application fees, notifications, public hearings, etc. if a chicken-specific zoning ordinance is adopted.

“I don’t think it makes sense to say that we can’t have chickens in the town of Hudson,” Johnson told the board. “But, right now, I don’t think it’s right to require a special exemption either. … So let’s take one thing at a time on this.”

Johnson said he would contact other local municipalities and the Wisconsin Towns Association for sample chicken-coop ordinances that Hudson Township could review.

“We’re looking at maybe some kind of ordinance where you don’t need public hearings and all the rest just to get an exemption,” he said.

The matter is expected to be considered at the board’s next regular meeting May 6.

Bike-trail effort backed

The board also unanimously voted to endorse the St. Croix Bike and Pedestrian Trails Coalition’s efforts to develop a 15-year plan for new trails south, east and north of the pending River Crossing project.

Currently, River Crossing includes a “Loop Trail” north of Hudson, but the coalition is pushing for several others countywide, including an extension south to I-94 and Willow River State Park, the group’s attorney, Mark Gherty, said in an interview after the board meeting.

The coalition hopes the 15-year plan can be paid for with federal/state Transportation Alternatives Program grants, Gherty said. He noted that St. Joseph Township has already sent an endorsement letter to the St. Croix County Board.

Loop Trail construction is scheduled to begin in 2017.

Gherty emphasized that sending an endorsement letter to the County Board would not lock the Hudson Town Board into signing off on any specific trail projects in the future.

“This is just showing your support (for the coalition’s goals),” Gherty said.

The coalition includes representatives from Hudson, New Richmond, Somerset, North Hudson and the towns of Hudson, Richmond and St. Joseph and Troy.

Tough Mudder hearing

The board also approved a May 6 public hearing on a special zoning exemption for the “Tough Mudder” endurance race July 20-22.

Most of the race’s 10- to 12-mile course is located in St. Joseph Township, but “about one-third of a mile” is located within town of Hudson boundaries, Johnson said.

Billed as “America’s Toughest Obstacle Course,” the grueling, gauntlet-style race typically attracts 10,000-15,000 participants and spectators, boosting local host economies by $2-10 million, according to the event’s website.

The public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. on May 6 at the Hudson Town Hall. The board could take action immediately after the hearing.