Like many cities across the country, Salem recently adopted a chicken-keeping ordinance. However, unlike other cities, it took two years to convince city officials that a few backyard hens would not be the downfall of Oregon’s capital city.
Our simple request for three pet hens stirred up such controversy it made the front page of The Wall Street Journal in July 2009. Despite the fact that chickens are legal in nearby metropolises like Portland and Seattle, along with many surrounding smaller towns, the city of Salem was especially resistant to joining the urban chicken movement.
But members of our group, Chickens In The Yard (CITY), did not give up. Even after city council rejected the proposed ordinance in 2009, we kept at it. We produced an award-winning documentary film, The Chicken Revolution, which helped sway the opinions of some of our strongest opponents. We worked with the neighborhood associations, eventually gaining the endorsement of 13 of Salem’s 19 neighborhoods. We made 16 appearances at City Hall meetings. And after two years and two months, we finally won! Well, sort of …
In a seven-to-two vote last September, we got our long-awaited chicken ordinance along with five pages worth of restrictions. In a nutshell, here it is:
City residents can keep just three hens (no roosters).
The chicken coop/run combination cannot exceed 120 square feet.
The chicken coop/run combination must be at least 20 feet from neighbors’ houses. Chickens must be enclosed at all times except when under direct supervision.
No slaughtering or selling of chickens is permitted.
Eggs cannot be sold.
Feed must be stored in a manner that does not attract rodents or pests.
The chicken facility must be kept in a manner that does not create a nuisance for neighbors (odor, noise, etc.).
A bit restrictive, yes, but not too bad … until you read the rest:
The chicken coop/run combination must be at least 10 feet from your own house.
Chicken-owners must pass an inspection in order to get a chicken license (estimated to cost about $30).
The license will cost another $50 and must be paid every year.
Follow-up inspections will be required every three years.
Violations will result in escalating fines, starting at $250 for the first offense and going up from there.
Bad as that sounds, it could have been much worse. Originally, the ordinance would have applied only to residents in just one residential zone, but now all Salem residents can have chickens. When first drafted, the ordinance would have only allowed residents on lots larger than 10,000 square feet to have chickens, automatically eliminating 80% of us. But we won that battle and the city eliminated the minimum lot size requirement. The coop would have had to been built 20 feet from the property line, rather than from neighbors’ dwellings. And the permit would have cost $67.50 per year instead of $50. Oh, and we got the city to change its definition of “livestock” to exclude three hens raised for noncommercial purposes.
When you consider all that, our ordinance was indeed a victory.
Not surprisingly, some Salem residents are unhappy with the restrictions, fees and permits, and I don’t blame them. The one that bothers me the most is the requirement that the coop must be at least 10 feet from the chicken owner’s own house. I have studied ordinances all over the country and have never seen one with a requirement like this. When asked for the reason behind this odd rule, one city councilor explained that it was to protect children from parents who might build the coop next to the kid’s bedroom window (rather than their own), forcing their children to smell it. I’m serious; he actually said that.
Fortunately, the city councilor who made that rule will be replaced when his term expires at the end of the year. The mayor who has changed her mind about chickens three times will be gone as well. And another councilor who repeatedly voted against the ordinance is also leaving. We are hopeful that the new members will be open to modifications of the ordinance when we hit them up for changes next spring!
For more details about Salem’s chicken ordinance, and tips on changing an ordinance where you live, go to www.Chicken-Revolution.com.