Roosters might make all the noise, but in Tacoma, the hens still rule the rule book.
A proposal to revise city law to make it easier for residents to raise backyard chickens, ducks, geese and other domestic fowl came before Tacoma’s City Council for initial consideration Tuesday.
Dubbed the Poultry and Pigeons Code Amendment, the measure would revise the city’s domestic fowl ordinance by reducing an onerous setback for operating a poultry coop and adding new limits on the number of birds allowed per parcel.
“There actually is a demand to raise chickens in Tacoma,” Kristi Lynett, manager of the city’s Office of Sustainability, said earlier Tuesday. “This (proposal) is really symbolic of the city’s bigger goal to facilitate livable neighborhoods.”
But even with the proposed urban farmer-friendly revisions, those who want to have roosters remain out of luck. Long prohibited within city limits, the obnoxious early-risers prone to crow in the dawning day remain so afflicted under the proposed changes.
“We’re keeping our rooster ban,” Lynett said.
Turkeys might get the ax, too. After Lynett presented the measure Tuesday, councilmen David Boe and Marty Campbell noted that “the cry of Tom Turkey” can out-duel the shrillest of roosters.
They directed Lynett to examine adding the big bird to the ban list before the measure makes it way back to the council for a formal vote. That could happen as early as next week.
No stated limits on the number of poultry per household currently exist, and urban coops and cages must be kept at least 50 feet from neighboring dwellings.
“Not many properties in the city can meet the current setback,” Lynett said. “Most of the coops operating now are really out of compliance.”
The proposal calls for dropping the setback to 12 feet. It would also limit the number of chickens, pigeons or other fowl allowed per parcel to six adult birds, though people who get written permission from neighbors can possess up to 10. Chicks or juvenile birds are not restricted under the proposal.
The new limits would instantly apply to anyone starting a new coop after the measure’s approval. Residents who already own more birds than allowed under the proposal would be given three years to comply.
The measure also would redefine code violations as civil infractions – not criminal ones, as now defined – and institute penalties for them of $250 each. New standards for poultry coops and cages also would be added to city code.
The way things work now, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department is tasked with dealing with citizen grouses about Tacoma’s domestic fowl.
Since 2005, the Health Department has fielded 80 complaints about chickens, geese, quail, ducks and other poultry, said Frank DiBiase, deputy director of the department’s Environmental Health Division.
“It’s a pretty small number relative to the other kinds of complaints we get,” he said.
Odors and noises typically are what draw complaints, DiBiase said, adding that violators usually self-correct after the department sends a warning letter.
If approved, the new ordinance would make city code enforcement officers responsible for dealing with such complaints.
The proposal began taking form last year when the Sustainable Tacoma Commission – a citizens panel charged with helping the city meet its sustainability goals – reviewed city policies.
Urban poultry farming in Tacoma and other cities has gained popularity in recent years, Lynett said, as city-dwellers have looked for an inexpensive source for organic eggs and meat. Poultry also can act as efficient composters of table scraps that otherwise would be hauled to the dump.
An “Urban Coop Tour” held the past two years by the Proctor-based organic nursery GardenSphere drew more than 2,000 people in 2011, Lynett said.
“A lot of people really like the idea,” she said. “The vast majority of the time chicken coops bring neighborhoods together.”