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Originally published July 2, 2010 at 9:05 PM | Page modified July 2, 2010 at 10:38 PM

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Backyard chicken flocks in Seattle could grow

Seattle homeowners may be allowed to raise up to eight chickens (the current limit is three), including roosters, under a proposal that would also allow people to sell food they've grown in their yards.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Public hearing

Seattle City Council's Regional Development and Sustainability Committee will hold a public hearing on the proposed urban-agriculture legislation at 5:30 p.m. July 21, at the council chambers, City Hall, 600 Fourth Ave.

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A family from the Matthews Beach neighborhood toted a rooster into the Seattle City Council chambers last month to testify in support of urban fowl.

Council members didn't flinch. Instead, they fawned over the bird.

"Awww," cooed Council President Richard Conlin. "Nice!"

This year is, after all, Seattle's "Year of Urban Agriculture." The City Council is considering in-city farming regulations this summer that would give Seattle some of the most permissive rules in the nation. In-city lots could have up to eight chickens (the current limit is three), including roosters.

The legislation would allow people to sell food they've grown in their yards. It also would allow rooftop greenhouses to exceed building-height limits in commercial and industrial neighborhoods.

"Pretty much all we've gotten is positive response on this," said Conlin, whose Regional Development and Sustainability Committee will vote on the legislation in late July. "We've got people who really are clamoring to set up urban farms."

Seattle is one of the few cities in the country to include urban agriculture in its long-term planning, said Andy Fisher, the executive director of the Community Food Security Coalition, which is based in Portland. "I wouldn't say that Seattle is like the No. 1 place for urban agriculture, but it is in the top tier of cities across the country."

That's probably because of the city's "environmental pride. It's a big environmental city," he said, conceding: "The chicken thing is definitely a little trendy."

Portland allows three chickens and no roosters. Roosters are allowed in Seattle, and the council wants to keep it that way.

The city's Department of Planning and Development recommended outlawing roosters, but Conlin removed the provision, saying that there are already city noise regulations to handle crowing roosters, along with barking dogs and other noises. The city code allows officials to detain nuisance animals and prosecute the owners under the noise ordinance.

The council has received a few letters from people concerned about rooster noise, but almost none from people concerned about raising the cap on the number of backyard chickens.

Jason Weeber said residents shouldn't have to be subjected to clucking and crowing.

"People who want hens always have the option to move to the country," he wrote. "What options do city residents have to escape farm noise?"

The new legislation also allows urban farms of up to 4,000 square feet in residential zones and with no size limits in commercial zones. In industrial zones, urban farms would be allowed on rooftops, beside buildings, almost anywhere on the lot.

In addition, the legislation allows rooftop greenhouses in certain zones to extend 15 feet beyond normal height limits.

On list-servs and urban-agriculture websites, and in testimony before the City Council, residents say they're ready for more chickens. Small flocks have become commonplace in some neighborhoods.

"I'm part of the urban-farm movement, I would say," said Nancy Merrill, of Wallingford, who has named her chickens Colliape, Sparky Rascal and Red Ellen. She keeps them in a coop she calls the Yellow Submarine, and the neighborhood kids bring by bugs and worms to feed the flock. "It feels like maybe a farm-ette. I like the routine of it."

Merrill said there are chickens on every block in Wallingford. "It's a change from lawns and 'House Beautiful,' " she said. Still, when her neighbor's house was for sale, she said she made sure her chickens were visible to potential buyers.

No one made a peep.

"Most people say they love to hear the sound of chickens."

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

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