The Belgrade City Council approved a citizen request to place chicken ownership on the November ballot. The backyard chicken debate has been brought to the council since 2007. The council voted down a proposed ordinace each time.

The citizens of Belgrade will decide whether to legalize backyard chickens following a City Council vote Monday to put the question on the general election ballot next November.

The council’s unanimous decision came after the fairly brief testimony of a handful of citizens and a few minutes of discussion among council members and city staff. Monday’s meeting was held entirely over Zoom due to COVID transmission concerns.

The relatively limited discourse Monday was just the latest in a years-long effort by chicken proponents to convince city councils past and present to legalize the keeping of domestic chickens. The proposal has been voted down four times since 2009, most recently in 2018.

When some residents asked the council again this past summer to reconsider a proposal to legalize chickens in the city limits, elected officials weary of repeatedly holding lengthy public hearings suggested turning the matter over to citizens. They suggested they conduct a petition drive with the goal of gathering enough support to put the question on the ballot for Belgrade residents to decide.

“If citizens bring enough signatures, we could put it on the ballot,” Mayor Russ Nelson said in July. “It will allow both sides to go out and campaign.”

Bill Siebrasse and Ashley Fiske accepted the challenge and spearheaded a petition drive this fall, marshaling volunteers and employing strategies to cover as much ground as possible to collect 793 valid signatures. Despite gathering over 1,000 signatures, not enough were validated and the petition drive failed.

The duo approached the council again earlier this month to explain the difficulties they encountered during a petition drive held during a pandemic and busy political season, during which they said they received little help from county officials who were too busy to answer their questions or provide them with information that would have helped them meet their goal. They asked the city, whose deadline for additions to next November’s ballot is still months away, to consider sponsoring the ballot measure instead.

“All we’re trying to do here is get it on the ballot – it doesn’t mean it’s passed,” Siebrasse reiterated Monday. “We’re trying to get this on the ballot and let the citizens decide.”

During a public hearing held before the vote, one resident expressed concern about the council sponsoring a ballot measure that failed to garner enough petition support, but City Manager Ted Barkley said it would be entirely proper.

“Not only can you do that, but there’s no limit on the number of times,” Barkley said.

Barkley also said the cost to sponsor the measure will be minimal because the city will be placing other items on next November’s ballot.

Belgrade residents will vote on the same proposed chicken ordinance denied by the council in 2018. If approved, it will permit residents of single-family homes on lots larger than 7,000 square feet to keep as many as six hens or six mixed-sex domestic chickens under the age of 3 months, or any combination thereof not to exceed six total chickens per permit holder. Roosters would not be permitted. The complete ordinance is posted on the city’s website.

If it passes, the new law would not supersede rules set by individual homeowners associations, and the council would be able to amend the law after it is passed.

“I guess it will go on the ballot, folks,” said Nelson, whose unwillingness to put the chicken question in the council’s hands for a fifth time has been criticized by chicken supporters. “The people have been allowed to speak on this tonight.”

In other business Monday, the council:

• Approved making the Belgrade City Court a court of record, meaning that an official record will be kept of all court proceedings. If the court’s verdicts are appealed to a higher court, those records will be available to judges and attorneys to the examine evidence, testimony and procedures used during the City Court trials. Breuner said Monday that the transition must be completed within six months.

• Approved raising the amount of paid leave available to city employees for COVID-related absences from 120 hours to 200 hours.

• Approved a waiver to the city’s sign ordinance for Torgerson’s LLC-Case IH located at 5900 Jackrabbit Lane. The waiver will allow the business to erect a second 35-foot sign.

• Denied a variance to the city sidewalk design standards requested by Glenn VanDyke Construction. The company installed a sidewalk at 1515 Powers Boulevard that exceeds the maximum allowable cross slope of 2 percent. Public Works Director Steve Klotz agreed that the variance is slight enough “that most of us would not notice it if we walked it or looked at it,” but he nevertheless recommended against granting the waiver because the sidewalk is not in compliance Americans with Disabilities Act standards. City Attorney Rick Ramler concurred. “My concern is giving the applicant permission or authorization to not meet ADA requirements,” Ramler said. “It could create some liability for the city. The risk may be minimal, but I can’t advise it.”

• Granted final plat approval for Prescott Ranch Phase 1A.