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Council gives nod to new chicken laws

Learns that hockey renovations will cost another $175,000

In a straw poll during the Sept. 1 work session, Cloquet city councilors gave hope to want-to-be chicken owners all over Cloquet.

After a relatively quick rehash of the past seven years of chicken debates in Cloquet, city administrator Tim Peterson first asked councilors if they would allow chickens in the suburban residential zones of Cloquet, neighborhoods such as the Antus Addition by Hilltop and Erickson Acres, where lots are larger.

While no one objected to allowing residents to keep chickens in that zone - where most lots are a half-acre or larger - Ward 3 councilor Chris Swanson said he has talked to a lot of residents in his ward (which lies in the center of town) who would like to keep chickens.

"I've heard from several people and been stopped at the grocery store that they can handle taking care of chickens," he said. "If we can allow three dogs on lots (regardless of size), chickens won't be a problem as long as there are regulations."

Currently there is no specific ordinance for chickens. Rather, they are defined as "livestock" in the city code, which prohibits farm animals on residential lots under 10 acres in size, and only in the "farm residential" zone.

Most of the councilors said they had gotten numerous calls on the issue, with the vast majority supporting changing the city code to allow more people to raise chickens, with limitations. Some of the proposed requirements - outlined when the question came up in 2012 - include a maximum of five hens, no roosters, no free range, no slaughtering in a residential zone. The chickens must have a coop, and a pen with a certain amount of square footage. Property line setbacks must be met. And 75-80 percent of neighbors within 100 feet of the home would have to give written consent.

By the end of the work session discussion, the majority of councilors and mayor Roger Maki agreed that they would support allowing chickens in all zones of the city, but only on lots that are at least one-quarter of an acre in size. With that, they shifted the next phase of the chicken discussions and development of a new city ordinance to the planning commission, which will hold public hearings and bring its recommendations to the council at a later date.

Barn challenges

Councilors got bad news Tuesday regarding The Barn - not a home for any livestock - the city's oldest indoor hockey arena, which has been undergoing renovations this summer to its flooring and compressor plant.

To make the renovation work, the council would need to approve a change order of up to $175,000.

Public works director Caleb Peterson said workers found that the boards that anchor the headers around the perimeter of the arena are rotting. That means the piping that runs through the floor and cools the ice in the winter - which is surrounded by sand - would have no consistent anchor system. Additionally, he said, many of the headers were attached to features beside them, such as walkways, player and penalty boxes.

To fix it will require pouring a concrete curb under the entire length of the arena to anchor the headers, along with other steps.

Caleb Peterson pointed out that this summer's two arena projects - Northwoods Arena is also getting a new dehumidification system -- were originally budgeted at $1.14 million, and the city was holding $167,000 of that in reserve in case there were unexpected expenses. If the council approved the $175,000 expense, it would mean going over the budget by less than $10,000. And hockey season is fast approaching.

"This is pretty much the last big surprise we were waiting for," city administrator Tim Peterson told the council. "Right now construction has stopped, and we've met with a lot of people. This is the best and, frankly, only solution we can really come up with."

Councilors voted unanimously to approve the change order, as not fixing the rotting boards and anchors would likely mean the new flooring would fail much faster.

In other matters Tuesday:

-Councilors heard that Cloquet Area Fire District board chair and longtime fire chief Jim Langenbrunner resigned from the board. Langenbrunner and his wife are moving out of Cloquet, the area he represented on the board. Councilor Sheila Lamb will move from a board alternate position to a board seat in his absence and the city will seek applications for a new CAFD board member or board alternate in January. "We want to thank Jim for his time and his service over the many years he's been involved," Tim Peterson said.

-Resident Jeremy Johnson wrote a letter and addressed the council regarding a large increase in his city water and sewer bill, which he said went from $25 in March, to $34 in April, $54 in July and $70 in August.

"Nothing changed in my day-to-day life that would warrant that much usage," he said. "My toilet doesn't leak and it's been raining a lot, so there's no need to water the lawn."

Public works director Caleb Peterson said sometimes toilets leak inconsistently, so residents don't realize there's a problem. He also pointed out that the water bill in August is for July usage, when it was still quite dry here.

Councilor Lamb said she's heard from a number of neighbors, including Johnson, about much higher water bills and wondered if they were affected by the construction projects.

Peterson said he would have his crews test Johnson's water meter and at least one other in the area.