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Zoning commission discusses future for chickens

 


A rooster heralded a sprawling and at-times unruly conversation about rural identity at the May 8 Planning and Zoning commission meeting.

The rooster in question lives in a neighborhood along Zimovia Highway. Its crows have disturbed at least one neighbor, who has complained to the Wrangell Police Department. The police have issued a nuisance animal ticket, at a cost of $15, to Jamie Townsend, the rooster’s owner.

While discussion at the meeting focused around “supporting the rooster,” borough officials have received several complaints on the subject of animals, Economic Development Officer Carol Rushmore told the commission.

“We have received several complaints, mostly about chickens, a few about horses and where they’re walking with manure being left behind, over the last year or so, but recently it’s been more and more about chickens and damage that they’re doing to adjacent neighbors, or rooster in single-family (residential area) and the noise element,” she said.

The agenda item was originally proposed only for discussion, similar to the code review committee’s examination of the ordinances.

“Now it’s time to look at are there any gaps, what are the problem areas, and do you want to make any modifications,” Rushmore said. “Number one, there’s a rooster issue, and the zoning code doesn’t deal with roosters. One question I have is: ‘where should roosters be allowed?’”

Two sections of the municipal code deal with animal policy in the borough. Section 7 establishes a ticketing rubric for animals at large and nuisance animals. Section 20 lays out the various zones and the uses for land permitted in each section.

The rooster in question lives in a single-family residential area. The zoning rules for properties in a single-family residential area group all fowl together, including hens and roosters (as well as other fowl like geese and ducks), and indicate that any property with more than 10 adult fowl require a zoning variance. Properties in excess of 10 adult fowl are classified as an animal establishment, which includes boarding, selling, training, or breeding animals. Rural residential areas don’t require a zoning variance.

Discussion on animal codes and how to amend them has surfaced in borough assembly meetings, at a code review committee meeting – tasked with periodically examining and revising borough ordinances – and now at the planning and zoning commission meeting as well.

Commissioner Mark Mitchell said he was hesitant for the board to take up the issue.

“If an animal gets on another person’s lawn and causes damage, I suspect he can go for restitution, you can call the law, they can be disposed of,” he said. “There’s other avenues you can go to other than planning and zoning. I guess I’m a little bit apprehensive of wanting to get involved in this.”

Mitchell sponsored a motion to leave existing zoning ordinances untouched.

The degree to which roosters are permitted by local ordinances can vary wildly even within states, according to a list of ordinances provided on http://www.backyardchickens.com, a web forum devoted to urban chicken-raising. Some cities allow them on certain conditions, and others do not, according to the website.

Commissioner Stanley Schnell, who owns horses, told the commission that had he been informed that horses were a problem, he would have taken action.

“We own the majority of horses on the island, and there are a couple-three other young ladies that own horses,” he said. “If these complaints had been brought to me, we would have put a stop to it. The horse thing just does not need to be brought before planning and zoning. All it takes is one phone call and the action will be taken with horses. I can tell you that right now.”

The possibility that the borough could change the rules for chicken-rearing drew about 15 members of the public to the May 8 meeting – most of whom identified as pro-chicken – making it easily the most well-attended commission meeting in the last six months. Commission meetings can sometimes last as little as 15 minutes, contrasting with Thursday’s two-hour meeting.

Public power superintendent Clay Hammer, whose family owns chickens, was among them.

“We got chickens,” he said. “I’ve heard this was gonna be a topic tonight and so I’ve gone through and reviewed the ordinances to the best of my ability.”

Existing ordinances adequately deal with potential problems, Hammer said.

Neighborly cooperation has avoided conflict in the past, said Lucy Robinson.

“In terms of the ordinance, I feel like this group of people who have chickens and raise chickens and animals do what they can to comply,” she said. “I live in a neighborhood full of chickens and everybody’s great as far as if another chicken gets into a yard, or gets eaten by a dog perhaps. There’s all kinds of things that happen and we as a community, and as a neighborhood, work together.”

Chicken-raising is also part of a community-wide push toward sustainability, Robinson said. She listed the community garden, moose and deer hunting, and fishing as other examples.

“We are an island community and sustainability is important,” she said. “You have chickens and you have eggs you have a rooster to fertilize those eggs, and that’s important.”

“Why can’t we – with a reasonable amount of cooperation – raise chickens and have roosters?” she added. “I don’t think that’s unreasonable.”

For others who spoke at the meeting, like Traci Davidson, the rooster question is less about sustainability and more about a good night’s sleep in their own home.

“I’m about 50 yards away from a rooster,” she said. “My daughter’s bedroom is on the side of the house. My granddaughter’s bedroom is on the same side of the house. This rooster starts about 5:30 a.m. It’s only going to get earlier as we get sun earlier.”

“This rooster crows about five times every minute for fifteen minutes every hour on the hour,” she added.

The concern wasn’t about chickens kept for eggs, but primarily about roosters kept to fertilize eggs in order to produce more chickens, Davidson said.

“I don’t care about the chickens,” she said. “You keep your chickens, you keep ‘em penned up. You don’t need a rooster for eggs.”

“Pretty soon, everyone’s going to have a rooster,” she said. “Then where do we go?”

In other business, the commission voted 5-0 to approve a setback variance for a house in the McCay subdivision, but voted 3-2 not to grant a height variance sought by James Brenner. Tim Murray – Brenner’s neighbor – said the height requirement would have blocked sunlight from reaching neighboring houses. Brenner had contended that without the variance, he would have to re-pitch his roof, requiring additional construction expenses.

The commission voted 5-0 to approve a conditional use permit sought by Sara and Charles Gadd to place a mobile home on their property pending the construction of their house.

The commission also voted 4-0 to approve a tidelands lease sought by commissioner Mitchell, who recused himself from the vote.

The commission also discussed the ongoing land selection from the borough’s 2008 incorporation.

 

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