During a Visalia City Council work session on April 6, council discussed initiating a zoning amendment to allow keeping chickens within city limits. Keeping chickens in residential zones is not presently allowed in Visalia, except in the Rural Residential and Agricultural Zone districts.
This issue is addressed in a variety of ways throughout the State. Most cities, like Visalia, classify chickens and similar fowl as barnyard or farm animals, and exclude them from being kept as household pets. Other nearby cities are mixed in their allowances for chickens.
Of nine local cities examined, four allowed chickens and five did not. The four cities that do allow chickens within their city limits are Exeter, Farmersville, Lindsay and Woodlake. Farmersville does not even require a coop, while Exeter allows up to 10 fowl.
Cities that allow the keeping of chickens have generally concluded that chickens can be pets and potential food sources providing eggs and meat. The cities have allowed from one to several chickens on residential lots, either by permit, or by right.
Cities that allow chickens typically include several restrictions such as: no roosters, no killing and/or dressing the animals on the premises, and require enclosure standards, including setbacks from property lines or habitable structures. These standards and limitations are intended to minimize the potential nuisance effects of these animals on adjacent and nearby properties.
The following features may be part of a Visalia ordinance:
- Limit the allowance to the R-1 and R-1-4.5 zone districts – This would preclude keeping chickens in medium and high density multi-family residential zones where space is limited and potential for conflicts is greater.
- Limit the maximum number to four chickens and no roosters per parcel. This would allow a reasonable number of chickens for egg production and for eventual dressing and consumption of the chickens. However, this number would also minimize the potential for nuisance impacts on other residences (noise, odors, vermin and predator attraction).
- Require coops/enclosures that provide shelter for each chicken at a rate of a minimum of three square feet per animal, as recommended by industry literature for chicken coops. Council may also consider allowing free range keeping during daylight hours or without any time restrictions so long as chickens do not leave the property.
- Coops/enclosures are required – set a minimum separation of at least 10 feet from habitable structures. This separation distance can be met by most residential lot configurations in the City’s residential zones.
- Limit the killing and dressing of chickens to indoor locations only. This would limit the potential for offending adjacent residents in the course of keeping chickens for eventual consumption.
- Consider requiring an over the counter permit for all chicken keeping. The permit process could ensure education about City standards and compliance with the above provisions. However, enforcement would admittedly be difficult. It is anticipated that the permit fee would be a one-time fee in the range of the annual license fee for cats ($8) and dogs ($18).
The staff recommended that city council directs them to present an ordinance amendment at a future regular meeting to allow chickens in residential zones. The vote was 3-2 in favor of bringing the item back to the council with Nelsen and Link voting against.
Nelsen commented that there are more cities that don’t allow chickens than do. He already has to clean up after the neighbor’s cats in his yard and he doesn’t feel like doing the same for someone’s chickens, he said. He assumes that the chickens will be kept in coops but that would not prevent an increase in the amount of bugs attracted to the chicken feed and the odor, he said.