The Duluth City Council waded through an animal-laden agenda Monday night, adopting an ordinance that would allow residents to keep hoofed pets and discussing emerging plans for the Lake Superior Zoo.
By a 7-2 margin, councilors passed an ordinance that would permit city residents to keep up to three hoofed animals - such as miniature goats, pigs, horses or sheep - as pets.
Up until now, the keeping of such animals on property zoned for residential use has been forbidden.
But Kris Kapsner said he and his wife checked with staff at city hall before acquiring three dwarf pygmy goats as pets for their young daughters in 2014. He said they were told there would be no problem with him keeping the goats on a his 4-plus-acre property in Duluth Heights.
"It was not our intention to break any rules," Kapsner said.
After 14 months of caring for the animals and his family growing increasingly attached to them, he came home to find a notice from the city's animal control office informing him that goats were not allowed in his neighborhood.
The Kapsners again turned to city hall and subsequently sought a change in city code to allow for small goats to be kept on large residential lots.
At-Large City Councilor Barb Russ pointed to all the requirements that would be made of people seeking to keep goats under the ordinance, including the following:
- A minimum lot size of 2 acres
- A maximum of three hoofed animals, each weighing no more than 50 pounds
- A majority of neighbors living within 150 feet of the property line would need to approve
- Animals must be confined inside a fence that is set back at least 75 feet from all property lines
- Animal droppings must be picked up daily
- A license to keep hoofed animals would need to be renewed on an annual basis
Russ said the numerous restrictions should ensure that hoofed pets won't become commonplace in the city and that they will be kept in a manner that causes few problems for neighbors.
"I think we've come up with more restrictions than even St. Paul has," she said.
But 5th District Councilor Jay Fosle objected, saying: "I will not support this. It feels as if we're writing an ordinance for a specific individual. We're supposed to govern the whole city and not just one individual," he said.
Fosle questioned whether hoofed animals were a good fit for the city's residential neighborhoods.
"I think if you want farmland, you should move to the farm. This is a city. We used to have goats and chickens and cattle and sheep and everything, but it was all moved out of here for a reason," he said.
In response, 2nd District Councilor Joel Sipress said: "I do agree with Councilor Fosle that we should never pass an ordinance simply to address one person's situation. For me, I will be supporting this, but not just to solve one person's problem. Sometimes there's a situation that gets you looking at an issue, and there's nothing wrong with looking at an issue you haven't looked at before because one situation forces you to."
Sipress explained why he would support the ordinance change.
"Generally speaking, I think that as long as there are appropriate protections for neighbors, people should be allowed to do what they want," he said, adding that the ordinance appears to meet that standard.
Fosle warned the council against the dangers of continually adding duties to city staff and stretching resources ever thinner.
Ultimately, the ordinance passed, with Fosle and 4th District Councilor Noah Hobbs voting in the minority.
The council also discussed emerging plans for Fairmount Park and the Lake Superior Zoo which is situated within its bounds.
Jim Filby Williams, Duluth's director of public administration laid out a proposal to shrink the footprint of the zoo to about 10 acres, or roughly the same size as the Como Zoo in St. Paul. He said the plan would revitalize the attraction and make its facilities, exhibits and paths wheelchair-accessible.
While a few animals in the collection would be phased out, he said additional animals better equipped to tolerate Duluth's cold winters would take their place.
All told, Filby Williams said the revamped zoo would boast a similar number of animals and species.
He put the cost of the proposed improvements at about $15 million for the zoo and an additional $2 million to $3 million for the park.
Filby Williams said the park would provide access to a multi-use path being developed along the former route of the Duluth Winnipeg & Pacific Railway, as well as access to the mouth of Kingsbury Creek by way of a pedestrian underpass across Grand Avenue.
The Polar Shores exhibit, which was once home to polar bears, would be converted into a grizzly bear exhibit with help in the form of $1.9 in bond funding that the city is seeking from the Minnesota Legislature
Patrick Janikowski, a consultant helping with the project, said plans also call for a "Cool Cats" exhibit, featuring "cats from around the world that can still handle the cold weather, mostly North American and some Asian cats."
Janikowski also talked about proposed play areas for children at the zoo.
"It centers on mimicking what animals do or how they live and getting children closer to the animals. We're trying to make a connection with the public to the animals, so that they will develop empathy for the animals and so that people will help support them," he said.
In coming weeks, the Duluth Parks Commission is expected to make a recommendation regarding the zoo and Fairmount Park. In turn, the Duluth City Council aims to bring the plan to a vote in March.
If adopted, the plan will likely take eight years to implement, according to Filby Williams.