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Playing ‘Chicken’ at Town Hall

September 26, 2013

In a move that ought to make local food growers egg-static, Mammoth is forging ahead with creating a policy for raising and keeping chickens.

“The existing zoning code provides no guidance with regard to the raising of chickens for egg-laying purposes within the town limits,” wrote associate planner Jessica Morriss of the town staff.

“As the popularity of producing and procuring locally grown food has grown in the last few years, the town has received a number of requests from residents wishing to keep and raise chickens for egg-laying purposes.”

Wildlife specialist Steve Searles said he’s all for chickens, but he also issued a bit of a warning.

“I like chickens,” he said, “and I like eggs. And in the (Owens) Valley you can let them go just about anywhere—in the yard, in the trees, wherever.

“But here in Mammoth, given the predatory wildlife here, I would say it is mandatory that people use good husbandry practices. We have coyotes, bobcats, birds of prey, and of course, bears.

“So it’s paramount that good husbandry and hygiene are practiced here.”

In her report, which was to be delivered to the town’s Planning and Economic Development Commission at its meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 25, Morriss said the staff has received requests “from both single-family and multi-family homeowners.”

Sadly, for the rooster-loving Foghorn Leghorns among us—it is unknown how many rooster aficionados are strutting among the local denizens—it looks as if the males are to be left out in the cold.

That is because of roosters’ propensity to give (loud) voice by way of their distinctive, annoying, cock-a-doodle-doo at just about any time of the day or night.

“Hens, however, are quiet,” the staff report asserts, “making an occasional noise when laying an egg.”

The reason why the town is only now looking at this issue is because Mammoth zoning regulations included rules regarding animal care, animal boarding, veterinary clinics, animal hospitals and pet day care.

Chickens, however, did not come up in the discussion.

The town staff thus consulted a number of comparison codes to develop potential regulations. These included Bishop, Fowler, Orange Cove, Kingsburg, Chico, Sonoma, Truckee, Big Bear, and Placer County.

In addition, the town staff consulted regulators in Logan, Utah, and in Boulder and Steamboat Springs, Colo.

The draft code under discussion on Wednesday proposed a maximum of four hens, which would only be permitted in the Rural Residential and Residential Single Family zones.

The proposed code also includes a provision for the town to determine if additional chickens could be allowed if there are no adverse impacts.

The draft code also requires coops and pens be allowed in the rear yard only, and include standards related to the minimum distance that a coop or pen can be located from habitable structures.

The proposal also includes setback standards, varying from 20 to 50 feet.

The key discussion points before the Economic and Development Commission (formerly called the Planning Commission), centered on three main areas: the proposed zones; the maximum number of chickens and the proposed regulations related to coops and pens.

If and when the issue ever gets that far, an environmental review (California Environmental Quality Act) also would have to be completed, funded by a Strategic Growth Council Grant, which covers staffing and other costs.

On Wednesday, because the issue is at the workshop stage, the issue was not up for a vote of any kind.

Nor did the commission address the ages-old question, which is always in play in matters of this kind, to wit,

Which came first? The chicken or the r-egg-ulation?

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