Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Covering Dallas, Monmouth, Independence, Falls City and surrounding areas since 1868

City, chicken lovers at odds

INDEPENDENCE -- Gretchen Kirchner said when she and her sister, Debby, moved from Boardman in Northeastern Oregon to Independence, they believed their new hometown would allow them to continue the rural lifestyle they both enjoyed.

Chloe Kirchner, 6, feeds Nafretiri, a golden sebright bantam, in a photo taken before the Kirchner’s had to get rid of their backyard pet chickens in Independence.

Gretchen Kirchner

Chloe Kirchner, 6, feeds Nafretiri, a golden sebright bantam, in a photo taken before the Kirchner’s had to get rid of their backyard pet chickens in Independence.

July 08, 2009

INDEPENDENCE -- Gretchen Kirchner said when she and her sister, Debby, moved from Boardman in Northeastern Oregon to Independence, they believed their new hometown would allow them to continue the rural lifestyle they both enjoyed.

That included keeping chickens as pets.

After finding a home here in 2007, the Kirchners immediately bought two little bantam hens and a "bossy" female Araucana.

The birds were affectionate, never strayed, and produced eggs for the sisters and their friends. So pleasant was the fowl trio that the Kirchners' neighbors considered getting some hens themselves, said Gretchen, a high school math teacher in Falls City.

Hens "are fun pets," she said. "People might be surprised they have personalities, but they bond with people and follow you around."

Unfortunately, the Kirchners were forced to find a new place for their birds to live in late May, after a police officer -- who saw the pets' enclosure while on an unrelated call -- informed them that keeping chickens and other poultry within city limits was a code violation.

"We cooperated," Gretchen said. "But we're disappointed ... it's not very reasonable for this ordinance to be in place."

The Kirchners sent a letter on June 18 to the city, asking officials to reconsider, or at least review, the ordinance.

They've also posted an ad on craigslist.org seeking input from residents about the matter.

"We feel responsible owners should be allowed to keep hens," Gretchen said.

The City Council has no immediate plans to address the topic, though it could be added to a future meeting agenda, City Recorder Karin Johnson said.

Independence's development code has prohibited, since at least 1995, livestock and all types of poultry within residential zones.

Mike Danko, community development director, said he doesn't believe there's a reason to ban "chickens as a whole, but perhaps roosters (because of the) noise."

Still, Independence Police field about 10 calls a year regarding chickens in neighborhoods, said Chief Vern Wells. Half are from people inquiring whether they can keep the animals on their property, and the rest, reports about racket, odor or rodent infestation associated with messy coops, Wells said.

Police have subsequently required the birds to be relocated in those cases, Wells said.

"We usually deal with them on a complaint-driven basis," Wells said.

Discussion about owning poultry inside a city isn't particular to Independence. It's been an ongoing debate for almost two years in Salem, where officials there are now mulling whether to remove "non-commercial" chickens from that community's ban.

Corvallis allows unlimited numbers of penned chickens while Eugene lets its citizens have two hens. Monmouth has an ordinance against livestock or poultry, though a provision there does allow for exceptions on properties larger than half an acre.

Gretchen said she and Debby had asked about Independence's stance on owning chickens before moving here, and were told -- "by mistake" -- by somebody at City Hall that they could have three hens.

More frustrating is the fact that their house sits on a relatively roomy half acre south of Independence, she continued.

"It's not like we live smack up against a bunch of neighbors where it would be a problem," she said.

"We're a rural community. Portland allows chickens, but rural Independence doesn't," Debby Kirchner said. "For a rural city that's surrounded by farmland and farm animals, Independence is really anal."

Debby said she was sad to give up the birds. Vanja -- one of the banties -- "gave me a little brown egg each day," she said. "She also followed me around and loved treats and stuff like that. She was my baby."

Fortunately, their pets did end up in a good home, Gretchen said.

"One of my students (at Falls City High) offered to take them in," she said. "She's an animal lover and I knew they would get good care."