LANSING, Mich. — Lansing residents who want to keep ducks and goats in their backyards have been asking for changes to county zoning laws for years, but a recent opinion from Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is pushing the issue back to the Lansing City Council.
“Several years ago, a group of Lansing residents, east side residents, came to the Board of Commissioners asking us to amend our ordinance that allowed for chickens to also allow for ducks and goats," said Bryan Crenshaw, who represents District 4 on the Ingham County Board. "At that time, we had some questions about the authority that we had as a Board of Commissioners to authorize the ordinance.”
Lansing doesn't have it's own ordinance about keeping livestock in residential areas. By default that decision has fallen to the county commission.
But, last month, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said county commissioners don't have the authority to regulate keeping livestock except on county property.
"We have to act according to what we can regulate by ordinance," Crenshaw said.
Lansing residents will have to take the fight up with the City Council.
“Over the years, there's been this question about what kinds of animals should be allowed on residential properties," said Lansing City Councilman Brandon Betz, who represents the city's northeast side. "Chickens are currently allowed, but recently the city passed farm-based zoning code, which prohibits ducks and goats and other animals on residential properties, at least in particular zones.”
Betz says that he's in favor of allowing people to keep ducks and goats in their yards with some limitations.
“I am for I guess I would say, limited zoning exceptions to this rule. I think that in some parts of town it would make sense to have goats and ducks and things like that to enhance and enrich our community, also to provide food for people who can't necessarily afford it. You can raise the duck for cheaper and get some eggs," Betz said. "In that sense, however, the word 'limited' really does come to mind. There are some parts of town that would not be good environments for goats and ducks.”
Jennie Grant is the founder of the Goat Justice League, a grassroots effort in Seattle that was successful in changing part of the city's zoning code to allow residents to keep goats.
“In order to keep the goats, I had to change the zoning law, so I started this group called the Goat Justice League," she said.
Grant said she managed to change the minds of people who were against having goats in the city by teaching them about the animals and their benefits.
“They bring milk and cheese, and I make cheese for other people. It kind of builds community friendships, but also they are the sweetest goats ever and I’ve trained one of them to pull a little cart and we go hiking together," she said.
Crenshaw said that he understands why people want to keep goats and ducks but says, because of the attorney general's opinion, the decision should be made at the local level.
“I do understand the issue that residents have some health issues, some food issues," he said. "But again, we have to do it within the confines of the law that allows us to, you know, make an ordinance which would allow for that. Unfortunately, the opinion doesn't allow for us to do that. It's up to the local municipalities to do it.”
Betz said that he would happily support changes to Lansing's zoning code to allow goats and ducks and would love to see their milk and eggs be used for locally sourced foods.
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