Saturday, December 16, 2006

Comments to the Tacoma City Council

(I sent this to all of the Tacoma City Council this evening. Any responses received will be posted.)

Dear Mayor Baarsma, Honorable City Council Members:

My wife and I were dismayed to learn that the City of Tacoma is considering banning poultry in conjunction with its overhaul of the animal control ordinances. I understand that a hearing on this issue was held on December 12, 2006. I am sorry we did not know of the meeting because this is an issue of great concern to us.

We keep five hens in our backyard in Tacoma. They live in a clean and spacious coop. All of the eggs they produce are consumed in our home. We were very careful to check the Tacoma Municipal Code when we started raising them and were happy to comply with its provisions.

None of our neighbors have ever complained about our small flock. Indeed, our next-door neighbor tells us that our birds soothe him. Another neighbor is delighted to see our chickens bounding about catching bugs. We think they are an attractive asset to our neighborhood. It also is a wonder and a great pleasure for us to eat fresh home-grown eggs.

What are the policy concerns behind a total ban?

I ask this question seriously, especially given the fact that the proposed ordinance does not contemplate banning dogs or cats. I am not proposing such a ban, but rather am raising the point that certainly more public nuisances involve barking (and biting) dogs or howling stray cats than chickens. (I also note that the draft proposes banning rabbits—a quieter and meeker creature is hard to be found). Whatever the rationale may be for banning rabbits or chickens, certainly the same could be invoked more forcefully for dogs and cats.

I ask the Council to keep in mind that banning chickens is in fact a change in land-use policy. We use our shy quarter-acre to raise grapes, blueberries, raspberries, apples, pears, garden crops, and our chickens. The birds are integral to our production. The proposed ban would disrupt our attempt at producing wholesome food in an integrated and self-contained manner.

I also remind the Council that Washington State law frowns upon the drastic measure of a total ban on a previously recognized use:

"An ordinance requiring an immediate cessation of a nonconforming use may be held to be unconstitutional because it brings about a deprivation of property rights out of proportion to the public benefit obtained."

State ex rel. Miller v. Cain, 40 Wn.2d 216, 218 (Wash. 1952)(quoting Austin v. Older, 283 Mich. 667, 278 NW 727 (1938).

So the policy question is quite legitimate. The draft ordinance proposes to deprive a property right completely out of proportion to any readily identifiable public benefit.

The current ordinance is sufficient.

The current ordinance already prohibits raising other livestock without express permission from neighbors. 5.23.010. In addition, the code specifically regulates how chickens should be kept. For instance, it prohibits chickens at large. 5.30.020. It regulates how close to other dwellings they may be kept. 5.30.010. It allows for variances in situations in which neighbors approve. 5.30.030. The current ordinance reflects Tacoma's traditional progressive attitude of encouraging neighborly tolerance and productive use of land. There is no need to change these provisions.

But, if there is some pressing problem not known to some of us residents, wouldn't the proper and more sensible remedy be to adjust the existing provisions to address the issue? Instead of banning chickens altogether, address the specific problem, if there is one.

Backyard flocks are growing in popularity and allowed in many other cities.

I hope the Council is aware that other cities do not ban chickens, but in fact have actively encouraged backyard flocks. Madison, Wisconsin; Des Moines, Iowa; Portland, Oregon; and even the glamour girl to the north, Seattle, all expressly allow for backyard flocks. What is possessing Tacoma's leaders to abandon their city's heritage and go against the trend that is followed by other progressive and beautiful cities? I hope it is not a desire to turn Tacoma into some kind of sanitized cookie-cutter community. There are plenty of those to choose from elsewhere.

Consider that more people are interested in fresh food and locally-grown produce. Tacoma's successful Farmer's Market thrives on this interest. The City should encourage this trend. Backyard flocks are a simple, unobtrusive, and satisfying way of producing wholesome local food. A total ban on chickens is contrary to the interest of sustainable local (and small-scale) farming.

Many people we have met are delighted to know that we produce our own eggs. Visiting children are invariably fascinated. They are eager to learn of things that, in the past, were common knowledge. A ban on raising chickens destroys this heritage. Instead of children having the opportunity to actually raise their own bird, learn responsibility, and gain understanding about where food comes from, they would be forced to visit museums.

For these reasons, and for the personal reason that we enjoy our five hens in the backyard, I ask the City Council to reject the draft proposal with regard to poultry and rabbits.

In addition, I request a response to my question regarding the policy considerations and an actual copy of the proposed ordinance.

Thank you for your consideration.

Vic and Lauren Bottomly,
Tacoma, WA.


Kimbro said...

SO whatever happened with this? I am considering moving to Tacoma in a few years and really want chickens because I grew up with them.

Lauren said...

Hi Kimbro,

We can have chickens in Tacoma, as long as their hutch is 50 feet or more from any residence (including your own house). But we can have only hens--no roosters.

Kimbro said...

Do you know if the rules are different outside of city limits? If not do you know where I could look up that information. Roosters are the best part after all.

Lauren said...

You might want to check the Pierce County Code to make sure nothing has changed, but last I knew roosters were legal outside Tacoma city limits. Other incorporated cities might have their own restrictions, so be sure to check any municipality you're considering. This is a particular Tacoma city ordinance.

Anonymous said...

Lauren, I wish your interpretation were true . . . unfortunately, any hutch/coop/housing needs to be 50 feet or more away from the PROPERTY LINE, not residence. This rules out so many typical urban/suburban lots, including ours.

Here is the Pierce County ordinance (which is actually 45 feet to property line):

and the Tacoma City ordinance is similar : "B. The premises upon which such animals are kept shall have a total area of not less than 20,000 square feet and the premises upon which said animal or animals are housed and permitted to roam, shall be located not less than 50 feet from the adjoining property lines. " (this is ordinance 5.23.020)

I have neighbors with "illegal" chickens, but my husband just thinks it's a bad example for our children to knowingly disobey the law because we find it stupid. Which it is. Stupid law :-(.

Kim, sadly chickenless in Spanaway

Lauren said...


The proper Tacoma Municipal Code cite is 5.30.010:

5.30.010 Keeping – Prohibited places.

It shall be unlawful for any person to keep chickens,

geese, ducks, pigeons or other domestic fowl in any

chicken house or building within a distance of 50 feet

from the nearest portion of any residence, dwelling,

hotel, apartment house or rooming house in the City

of Tacoma; and the keeping of chickens, geese,

ducks, pigeons or other domestic fowl as aforesaid is

hereby declared to be a public nuisance; provided

that this chapter shall not apply in areas in which

abattoirs or stockyards are permitted by appropriate

ordinances. (Ord. 22212 § 17; passed Sept. 30, 1980:

Ord. 16586 § 1; passed Jun. 14, 1960)

Your citation applies to horses, sheep, cattle, and goats.

Anonymous said...


Oooo, you are so right! That is reassuring for my friend in Tacoma. Sadly, I'm not in Tacoma and the general Pierce County rule applies, I'm afraid, to me.

I keep looking at it for loopholes, though. One is that, although the guy at Pierce County pointed to the page I linked, the actual wording he pointed to is, "45 feet for pens, stables or barns which enclose small animals and livestock." I keep wondering if a COOP is different than a PEN . . . am I just reaching?

Every time I phone Pierce County I get some disinterested individual who is irritated and bored by my question and makes up information on the spot. I've been told, "six chickens but no roosters", but they've not been able to give me the actual zoning reg, and searching online has yielded nothing over the years. One county phone lady said, "Of COURSE you can't have chickens! You're not on farmland!" Uhmmm . . . you making up that as you go along, there?

It is frustrating, but I do think there will be more and more pressure on this question in the coming years.

Kim, sadly chickenless in Spanaway

Lauren said...


It does sound like PC is running kind of ad hoc...maybe schmooze with county council people and attend meetings and get active and get them to get it straight. Point to the Tacoma ordinance (though it allows hens but not roosters) and Seattle's as models.

If it's any consolation, our hens are in a hard molt, eating food, using litter, and NOT LAYING!

Kimbro said...

Thank you everyone for all your help. I am looking forward to heading out your way.

Anonymous said...

I'm getting ready to add a chicken coop & plan to follow the ordinance re: distance to neighbors, etc. However, it doesn't say how many hens one can have. Do you know if there are any rules on this? I was hoping for 3-6, but don't want to run afoul (ha ha) of the regulations.

Lauren said...

Tacoma doesn't specify a number. You might want to check out the "chicken stories" I've run on Oikos mou, my primary blog, too. It's an eclectic blog, so just use the SEARCH box and type in "chickens."

A Wild Celtic Rose said...

Hi Lauren,

I'm a little late into this conversation, but I only now got out of an apartment and back into a house.

Looking through the Tacoma Municipal Code, I can find the recent rooster ban in title 17 which deals with animal control, but I can't find the updated code for chickens and nuisance.

I haven't taped it yet, but I'm pretty sure I'm 50 feet away from the closest neighbor with a garage in between the coop and the property line.

Somewhere though, I thought I read 25 feet..

OnceAndFutureFarmer said...

I've also recently escaped an apartment inside the Tacoma city limits and gotten back into a house, with a little dirt...about a quarter of an acre---in unincorporated Pierce County.

I did attend that city council meeting where they were discussing banning poultry. There was an excellent turn out of poultry and other small livestock keepers there, and I do believe it affected the outcome.

I have recently discovered that zoning in unincorporated Pierce County prohibits keeping ANY livestock on lots smaller than one acre...and only six chickens on lots of one to three acres. You might want to read Title 18A of Pierce County Code, and be sure and check out growth management plan applicable to your area.

I think this is going to get noisy, though... It's completely ridiculous, especially in light of the just-passed city of Seattle ordinance that allows up to eight hens per lot. And yet you have to be on more than an acre in unincorporated Pierce County to have any birds at all? LOL!

OnceAndFutureFarmer said...

Sorry---I screwed up the URL in the ID on my previous comment. :-P