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The City Journals

Backyard chickens: coming soon to smaller lots?

Jul 26, 2017 11:25AM ● By Kelly Cannon

Riverton residents might be able to keep chickens on their small lot homes. (Stewie Smith)

By Mariden Williams | [email protected]
The Riverton City Planning Commission is considering revising the city code to allow chickens to be kept in small residential yards.
Currently, chickens are allowed on rural-residential lots of half an acre or more, but the proposed changes would allow chickens to be housed on lots of much smaller size, perhaps as small as one-fifth of an acre. A public hearing on the matter was held June 22. The planning commission addressed it again and proposed a defined plan of action at its July 13 meeting, which was held after our press deadline..
This is not the first time city officials have considered an amendment to this ordinance. Previously, city leaders considered reclassifying chickens as household pets rather than as small farm animals, which would have allowed each household a maximum of six chickens. This amendment was ultimately rejected, largely due to concerns that some lots would be too small to accommodate six chickens, and the planning commission brought up similar concerns at its most recent meeting. 
Chiefly, the commission worries that smaller lots won't provide enough distance between the coop and other dwellings to mitigate noise and the stink of chicken manure. Other concerns include the possibility of chickens getting into other yards and causing a nuisance, or else being threatened by neighboring pets.
“My parents kept chickens when I was growing up, and we constantly had battles with the neighbors, because their cats kept coming over to our yard and killing our chickens,” said City Planner Andrew Aagard.
There is no easy solution for neighborly disputes, but odor can be easily managed simply by cleaning out the coop regularly. Regarding noise issues, Riverton resident John Potter said it shouldn’t be a problem.
“If you consider a quiet cluck, kids playing outside are going to be far noisier than chickens in a coop," he said.
Roosters, however, are a different matter. Whatever changes the city may make to its policy on hens, the noisy males of the species will continue to be banned on lots smaller than half an acre.
Other cities have varying ways of regulating backyard chickens. Herriman employs a sort of sliding scale, wherein lots from 5,000 to 8,000 square feet can have four chickens, from 8,000 to 1,000 can have six chickens and 10,000 and larger can have 10 chickens. Lots smaller than 5,000 square feet can't have any at all. Draper has no minimum lot size requirement; every residential lot is allowed up to six chickens. However, it does regulate minimum setbacks of chicken coops and compost heaps from other dwellings and property lines. The strictest of the cities examined was South Jordan, which requires that chickens be kept on lots of 10,000 square feet or larger, with a maximum of six chickens per lot. But it should be noted that even South Jordan's required 10,000 square feet is still less than half as much land required by Riverton's half-acre rule.
If Riverton does proceed with this policy change, it is likely that they will use Herriman's chicken code as a model.
"I think the idea of ratcheting up with lot size is a good idea,” said Commissioner Brian Russell. “The more area you've got, I think the more chickens you can have. Where the breakoff is for zero, I think, is up for discussion.”
Now that the public hearing is over, the next step is for the city planners to hatch a new ordinance to replace the old one; they will hold another public hearing for the proposed new ordinance at the next meeting on July 13. From there, the planners will bring it before the City Council for approval.