Barring any last-minute changes of heart by the City Council, it should be legal to raise backyard hens in Billings starting Oct. 10.
The council approved a change to city ordinances Monday night allowing people to possess up to six hens, and the ordinance now is subject to approval on second reading.
That vote is usually just a formality, so if the council approves it on second reading at its next regular meeting, on Sept. 10, the ordinance would take effect 30 days later, on Oct. 10.
The council also passed, on first reading, an ordinance setting out rules for the keeping of chickens.
Chickens weren’t the only things on the agenda, though. Also winning approval was a resolution establishing an assessment for the new citywide park district; a new zoning code for the east end of downtown Billings; and an annexation and zone change that will allow construction of a six-classroom Montessori school at 4809 Grand Ave.
On the main chicken ordinance, there was no public hearing because one was conducted at the July 23 meeting. There was also little discussion of the issue among council members, mainly because they have sat through numerous presentations and hearings on the issue over the past year.
Mayor Tom Hanel prefaced the discussion by offering “a very respectful thank you” to people on both sides of the issue who weighed in with hundreds of e-mails, phone calls and letters.
To a round of applause from hen fanciers, the council then voted 6-4, with Rich McFadden absent, to approve the ordinance. Hanel joined council members Denis Pitman, Angela Cimmino and Mark Astle in voting “no.” On the prevailing side were Brent Cromley, Jim Ronquillo, Becky Bird, Jani McCall, Ed Ulledalen and Ken Crouch.
The ordinance establishing chicken regulations passed on a 9-1 vote, with only Cimmino opposed.
Besides limiting the number and gender of chickens to six hens, the regulations would require owners to buy an annual permit, provide a predator-proof chicken coop with at least 2 square feet per hen, and keep the coop or outdoor enclosure at least 10 feet from a neighboring property line, sidewalk or public right of way.
It also limits chickens to single-family parcels, sets a 12-foot height limit on coops and bans front-yard coops and chicken slaughtering in public view. As with most parts of the city’s animal ordinance, the chicken regulations would be complaint-driven, meaning officers will respond only if someone complains about violations of the ordinance.
The new zoning for the East Billings Urban Renewal District — roughly bound by Montana Avenue, Sixth Avenue North, North 22nd Street and MetraPark — was approved unanimously.
A group of district business owners worked with city staff and a consultant to draft a zoning code that would meet the redevelopment goals outlined in a master plan for the area.
The code, the first of its kind in Montana, would blend traditional and form-based zoning, emphasizing both land use and form, the latter being an attempt to encourage compatibility in how a building fits into the public realm.
Property owner Marty Connell, one of the drivers behind the plan, told the council before the vote, “If you guys approve this, you’re going to be creating one of the most vibrant areas of town.”
The citywide park district sets an assessment at 1.156 percent of taxable value in the city, not to exceed $1.85 million, in the coming year. The council intends to use the revenue from this year and in coming years to fund major improvements at city parks.
The assessment would increase taxes on a house with a market value of $200,000 by about $31.
The annexation on Grand Avenue took in two acres of land. The council then approved a special review to build a 17,868-square-foot private Montessori school on the site. It will also include a 25-car parking lot and a fenced playground.
The council also approved two zone changes: one on 4.2 acres at Hilltop Road and Bench Boulevard, from neighborhood commercial to residential multifamily, and the other at 1026, 1032 and 1040 Bench Blvd. Those 6.77 acres were changed from residential manufactured home to community commercial.