Community weighs in on chicken, adult retail rules

New regulations for keeping farm birds and limits on pornography businesses discussed

The community turned out Tuesday to tell the Spokane Valley City Council that it supported allowing more chickens in residential areas and the city should be as tough as possible in regulations addressing adult retail businesses.

While nearly every seat in the crowd was full, such was not the case on the dais. The council barely managed to have a quorum, with council members Bob McCaslin and Brenda Grassel absent.

The planning commission has recommended that current rules that allow chickens only on residential lots larger than 40,000 square feet be relaxed. “We would be doing away with the minimum lot size,” said Christina Janssen, assistant planner. Anyone would be able to have one chicken per 2,000 square feet of lot size, up to a maximum of 25 birds. Chicken coops would have to meet the minimum setbacks required of any secondary structure in a residential zone, Janssen said. Roosters would be prohibited.

The public comment was all in favor of the new rules, but several people also spoke out in favor of allowing roosters. “They’re not nearly as irritating as the neighbor’s dog barking at 2 a.m.,” said resident Bridget Jackson.

“There are more irritating things,” said Greenacres resident Mary Pollard, who also said she doesn’t mind her neighbor’s chickens.

Grant Rice advocated allowing roosters as well. “There are ways of dealing with roosters,” he said. “If you’re going to raise meat chickens, you need a rooster.”

Some also questioned the rule that chickens must be rendered incapable of flight. Resident Mel Jones asked whether a covered run would satisfy the rule. “Does that render them incapable of flight?”

Mayor Tom Towey said he believed it would. “I think the intent is to keep them from getting into a neighbor’s yard,” he said. The council unanimously agreed to advance the ordinance to a second and final reading.

The residents who testified in favor of new rules for adult retail businesses took the council to task for not being tough enough. The city staff and city attorney recommended language that would block adult retail shops from showing adult films in exchange for money. That activity is limited to adult entertainment businesses, which are more strictly regulated. But the planning commission voted narrowly to recommend that the council pass even tougher language that would also limit where promotional film clips could be shown.

Most of the residents who testified asked the council to approve the tougher version recommended by the planning commission. Pollard said that while she doesn’t want the city to get sued, she wants the city’s legal staff to protect residents. “We need to tighten up our laws,” she said. “It has a social impact. It does contribute to crime, and it does contribute to victimization.”

Lee Lefler commended the council for “entering into the belly of the pornography beast” and said the city staff and city attorney are “afraid to participate in the replacement of the porno cancer in our midst.”

Council members indicated that they understood that people wanted to be tough on adult businesses, but the city has to be cautious.

“We cannot prohibit them,” said Councilman Bill Gothmann. “The courts say so. This is a U.S. Constitution problem. We need laws that are legally enforceable. We have heard from some of the best legal minds in the state. We have to be able to go to court and defend our position.”

Gothmann said that if the new city code doesn’t work, the council can always revisit the issue and toughen the language. Councilman Dean Grafos agreed. “This is the first step,” he said. It is not in the city’s best interest to be “bogged down in expensive lawsuits” for several years, he said.

Towey said he didn’t want the city to be a “test market” on the issue. “I do hesitate that this wording is not in any other ordinance in the state of Washington,” he said, referring to the tougher language proposed by the planning commission. “I don’t think the taxpayers would want to spend that kind of money on a test market ordinance.”

The council unanimously voted to send the ordinance to a second reading using the city staff recommended language.

In other business, the council voted unanimously to purchase land at 17002 E. Euclid Ave. for $750,000 to serve as a street maintenance facility. It would replace the facility on First Street across from City Hall that the city is currently leasing. “We’ve conducted a fairly extensive search,” said Public Works Director Neil Kersten. “It’s a facility that’s in good condition.”

The money to pay for the property has already been set aside in the city’s street fund and storm water fund, Kersten said. Both funds will pay for the site because it will be used by both the street and storm water departments.

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