Local author is advocating for backyard chicken keeping in Lima Township
Knowing what it means to her and her family, and what it means to others, local author and Lima Township resident Celina Marie Chase is hoping backyard chicken keeping rules can be adjusted in her community.
For those who have done it or are doing it, backyard chicken keeping can be a great experience. From raising the little chicks to seeing after their well-being on a daily basis, and then seeing what they can bring to the table, the life of backyard chicken keeping is about responsibility, learning and fun.
These themes play a big part in her children’s book called "Bawk Bawk in the Backyard: A True Backyard Chicken Story" and they are also motivating her as she works with the township in hope of seeing a change.
In telling her story to the Sun Times News (STN), Chase said “In the fall of 2020, I was several years into illustrating my children’s book about backyard chickens when my husband and I decided to move our family from Ann Arbor to the Chelsea area.”
“We searched specifically for a property that was not part of a homeowner’s association (HOA), so we could expand our gardening and homesteading lifestyle without an HOA saying we couldn’t grow vegetables, put up a garden fence, or continue to keep our six hens,” she said. “Imagine our dismay when, after finding the perfect property in Lima Township and having our offer accepted, we learned the township does not allow residents to keep chickens in our zoning district (Single-Family Residential, R-1A).”
She said residents are permitted to keep backyard chickens in Chelsea, Grass Lake, Ann Arbor, Saline, and dozens of other Michigan communities, “so this came as quite a surprise given our new home was just a few houses outside of Chelsea proper.”
“We couldn’t comprehend why our hens were allowed on our 0.14-acre property in the city of Ann Arbor, but not on our new 1.32-acre property in rural Lima Township!” says Chase.
She said they called the township office to plead their case, but to no avail.
“This led to many tears and a very stressful effort to re-home our hens before moving,” she said. “We were fortunate that a family friend was willing to take them in. We moved into our new home, and I continued to work on my children’s book, relying on photos of our hens for inspiration as they were no longer with us.”
And then in the fall of 2022, their family friend reached out to them to let them know he was also moving to an R-1A-zoned property in Lima Township.
“Our hens needed a new home – once again – because Lima Township does not allow them!” she said. “After asking for help in local online communities, I connected with Hamlet Lavender Farm in Dexter Township who graciously took them in.”
She completed and published her book last spring. Both the Jackson County Farm Bureau and Washtenaw County Farm Bureau purchased dozens of copies for their educational programs.
GoodReads.com describes her book, in part, this way:
From peep, cheep, chirp to bawk, bawk, bawk! A delightful introduction to the fun and responsibility of backyard chicken keeping.
Bawk Bawk in the Backyard tells the heartwarming tale of one family's adventures raising chickens in the city. This children's picture book invites you to experience the joy of chickens, the love of family, and the beauty of nature through charming illustrations and whimsical rhyme.
Set in urban Ann Arbor, Michigan, where six egg-laying hens live in a coop in the backyard, it demonstrates the possibilities of producing your own food no matter where you live.
Chase said it was a fun experience reading the book to students and others as well as talking about it, but when it came to the topic of her hens…well, that was always the tough part.
So she wants to see a change and said the whole experience has motivated her to act.
“I recently reviewed Lima Township’s ordinances and discovered an ordinance already in place for the keeping of backyard hens,” she said. “The ordinance, 5.37.7, allows up to six hens in backyards zoned Rural Residential (RR). I attended the most recent township board meeting and asked them to update the ordinance to include Single-Family Residential (R-1A) and potentially other residentially-zoned districts.”
STN asked her what the township thinks of her request.
“The township has been very helpful thus far,” she said. “The township board listened to my presentation, and the next day the township supervisor called to follow up with me. He was sympathetic to my situation and encouraged me to speak with the zoning administrator for more information and ideas. After our conversation, I called the zoning administrator who suggested I attend the next planning commission meeting to voice my concerns.”
She said she asked them to amend the chicken coop distance from property lines in the ordinance, which is currently 50 feet and she proposed reducing this distance to 10 feet from a property line and 40 feet from a residential structure on an adjacent property, with an optional waiver for the 40-foot limit. She said this is in keeping with both Ann Arbor and Chelsea’s distance requirements for chicken coops and allows for more realistic placement in smaller backyards.
Citing Lima Township’s Master Plan, she said one of the township’s goals is to “endorse agricultural activities and events, especially those which provide education and experience for young people.”
“With that in mind, I implore the township to allow us to get chickens again, either through a special or temporary use permit, or by updating the ordinance to include our zoning district,” Chase said.
STN asked her what she would like the community to know.
“I want them to know Lima Township’s backyard chicken ordinance is too restrictive,” she answered. “Plenty of neighboring cities and towns allow backyard chickens on small lots in residential areas. I kept six hens in my small urban yard for several years with no issues, and I simply do not see the logic behind the township’s current restrictions. I would like to get chickens again, ideally this spring as my oldest child is in high school and we are running out of time to enjoy the experience as a family. I will continue to explore my options with the township while advocating for amending the ordinance to include other residential zones.”