Tips dealing with local governments

Discussion in 'Local Chicken Laws & Ordinances' started by jaj121159, Dec 6, 2011.

  1. jaj121159

    jaj121159 Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 27, 2010
    Northeast Nebraska
    1. If you are told something by a zoning administrator, building inspector, etc., pro or con to your questions, have them put it writing. Told you don't need a permit, have them put in writing via email or on letterhead. Not sure how close you can be to your property line have them write down or copy the setbacks from the code.

    2. When in doubt ask a local attorney. These guys deal with the officials all the time. They know what they eat for breakfast.

    3. Does your law have teeth? I am a zoning administrator, and thus the enforcement person, for two counties and five cities in Nebraska. I have one county attorney that will be very aggressive in enforcing our zoning regulations. The other county attorney not so much. The zoning regulations and the laws in Nebraska and most other places have a lot of bark, but only as much bite as the county or city attorney wishes to pursue.

    4. Don't go to elected officials because they don't know squat. Ninety-nine percent of the time, local government elected officials don't have a clue to the answer of your question. What do they do? They go to me, the local enforcement guy. Think about it, one day they decide to run for office for ego, need a job, or are upset about something that happened. Once they get in there they are bombarded with things like budgets, roads, complaints, etc. They don't have time to read and understand all the regulations for a city. Consider looking up a typical city's codes and try reading them once through from beginning to end. First of all try staying awake during your reading. Second, try understanding the details. Third try becoming an expert in the pages upon pages of code in one sitting.

    5. Talk to the staff. Find out who's in charge of a particular department and talk to them. I've been in Planning and Zoning for 30 years and if I don't know the answer right away, I know where it is and look it up.

    6. Noises and smells stand out in smaller towns. Barking dogs, stinky garbage, chicken poop not cared for properly, loud stereos, uncut grass all garner attention from the neighbors and calls to the cops or city hall. You can add crowing roosters to this list as well. People that legally own dogs get tickets if those dogs create a nuisance by barking in the middle of the night. Just because you are legal, doesn't mean somebody won't think, right or wrong what you are doing is a nuisance.

    7. Most investigations of code violations are complaint driven. I don't drive around looking for violations. If I see one that I can't ignore, like not getting a building permit for instance, I will take action. If I get a complaint from a citizen or one is passed from a citizen to me from an elected official, I have to look into it.

    8. Talk to the neighbors. One of the things I do as a county zoning administrator is site large livestock operations. I'm talking about 2,500 head of finishing pigs, 2,000 head dairies, 5,000 head cattle feedlots, etc. These can be very controversial. The applicants that talk to the neighbors and explain what they want to do and how they will do it, rarely have controversy.

    9. Do what you want in the right place. If you want a few chickens (2 to 4) the right place might be in a traditional city residential neighborhood, especially if legal. If you want 80 laying hens, look for someplace in the country in a zoning district that allows livestock. If you want or have chickens and are planning a move, investigate where they are legal now instead of trying to change the regulations, especially in regard to Home Owners Associations, deed restrictions and covenants. Now if you want chickens and no area around you allows them, or you are not moving then pursue changes.

    10. Don't ask friends or neighbors what the rules are or even the zoning district you live in. I have people come in all the time saying they want to rezone a piece of ground to build a house on. Ninety-percent of the ground in the unincorporated portions of my counties (it is rural Nebraska) is zoned agricultural. Some people think just because they want to build a house or own a house that particular piece or ground is or needs to be zoned residential it doesn't. I had some folks that thought they lived in outside of the city limits because they had a six acre lot and bordered farm ground. They didn't live outside of the city limits even though their neighbors said they did. I guess they never read their tax statement closely. If you live outside of the city you won't pay city property taxes (don't get that confused with school taxes or city income tax).

    11. Last tip, do your research. Read your local code before and or after talking to local government staff. Find out the name of the local government official you should talk to you. Document your way through government by getting the names of people you talk to and getting things in writing. don't be afraid to ask where what they are telling you is in the code. As part of your research, find out where you live. Sometimes in states like Michigan you can't tell if you are in a township or a city. Use your legal description (it's on your deed, mortgage, title search done prior to closing, and tax statement) and look it up on-line, or with the assessor, or register of deeds, or recorder, etc. Find out who does zoning where you live. In a lot of the mid-west and west, cities and villages have zoning jurisdiction one, two or more miles outside of their city limits. Find out your zoning district by asking to see the zoning map, tell the person your legal description and/or physical address and ask to see where it is on the map and what the zoning is. Ask for a copy of the particular regulations for that particular zoning district, a copy of the chapter of definitions, and a copy of supplemental regulations.

    I hope this helps.
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2011
  2. jaj121159

    jaj121159 Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 27, 2010
    Northeast Nebraska
    Another thought. If your local government is doing a Comprehensive or Mater Plan Document or Updating an existing one, go to the public meeting and add language that would support allowing chickens. Words like sustainability, local food sources, etc. are buzz words right now in Planning and Zoning.
  3. NightingaleJen

    NightingaleJen Out Of The Brooder

    This is an excellent post with great information. I know in my town folks tried to get the law changed to allow chickens last year, but failed. Of course, if at first you don't succeed...
  4. KBlue

    KBlue Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 21, 2011
    Katy, TX
    ...try, try again!

    Good info jaj121159, this could/should be a sticky.

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