Roosters out, hens and bunnies need permits
Heidi Zemach | For The LOG
Semi-wild bunnies dig up dandelions on a lot in downtown Seward this spring.
Are you a city resident who wants to join the green food revolution and own chickens? Well now you probably can own some, or rabbits, and still be in good standing with Seward city code, provided that you get a permit for them. And a hutch. Just make sure that the chickens are hens, not roosters.
Up until recently, neither of these critters were addressed in the city zoning codes, which only mentioned the permitting of larger livestock, such as horses and cows in rural residential areas, such as Forest Acres.
The Planning and Zoning Commission recently reviewed and updated the zoning code, including the parts regarding ownership of livestock, and noticed that chickens were not included. Nor were rabbits. Believing that local residents were probably interested in having chickens, its members decided to write a new section of code allowing them. To be fair, they threw in rabbits as well, and made them allowable in a majority of zoned areas, not just in the areas zoned rural residential.
The new code changes, which the city council approved earlier this summer, allows a person to own up to five hens or rabbits within city limits provided that they have enclosures, and that these are set back at least 25 feet from neighboring homes. Neither rabbits nor hens are allowed on lots with more than one dwelling unit, however.
The council did raise a few interesting concerns prior to the code change’s adoption.
“I have bunnies!” commented Vice Mayor Jean Bardarson, somewhat apologetically. She said she did not feel that she, nor other pet owners like her, should have to get a city permit for just one or two bunnies. Mayor David Seaward also felt he did not require a permit, although two undomesticated, wild rabbits were constantly coming onto his yard. “I don’t feed them, and they’re not mine,” he added, saying that he would not be getting a permit for them. The code changes were adopted anyway.
How will these new code regulations be enforced? What about the wild rabbit invasion? Will the city police or animal control now be responsible for removing these unlicensed rabbits, or challenging those who encourage them by feeding them? And who gets to decide what constitutes ownership? If you feed them, are they yours? And on another subject, what happens when one of those cute little chicks you got a city permit, for grows to maturity, puffs out its chest and begins crowing one morning? Do you then have to get rid of it?
These are thorny questions, not all of which City Planning Technician Dwayne Atwood could address. The city code does not provide a definition for domestic animal, and therefore what constitutes an animal’s owner, he said. Perhaps the animal control officer would handle the matter, he suggested. But she deals primarily with abandoned pet dogs and cats, not bunnies and chickens, said Police Chief Tom Clemons. Nor will police likely spend much effort enforcing these particular codes. Not when they have to spend their time chasing after more dangerous animals such as habituated garbage bears, or moose with calves wandering through populated areas and causing tourist-driven traffic jams along the highway.
The Seward Police will respond to neighbor’s complaints if there is a public safety issue involved, such as if a person’s rabbit feed, or chicken feed is drawing bears in to the area, said SPD Lieutenant Louis Tiner. They also would respond to noise complaints, just as they do to a barking dog, or loud music late at night, such as if neighbors complain about a rooster’s crowing all night. They might even have to bring a decimeter along to determine if the cock is violating noise codes, he said. But typically, they won’t actively police city code violations unless brought to their attention. Even then, the police normally would first forward the complaint to the City Community Development department, which would probably write a letter to the offender, informing them of the violation, and providing information on how to remedy the situation, Tiner said.
Heidi Zemach | For The LOG
Al’s Patty Wagon, and Red’s Burgers, opposite, on Third Avenue, will be grandfathered in, or exempted, from the new city code concerning temporary seasonal businesses.
Another portion of the zoning code reviewed by the P&Z, and adopted by the city council, concerned transient merchants, or those businesses that come in to Seward, park and operate here during the tourist season. Examples of which might be Red’s Burgers and Al’s Patty Wagon, or other businesses. The new code changes state that these transient businesses must be “road-ready,” have blocks for their wheels that can be removed, and full skirting that matches the rest of the vehicle or trailer. They also must pack up and leave the area completely when their 150-day transient merchant license expires. Red’s Burgers and Al’s Patty Wagon (semi-permanent businesses that do not currently meet the city’s building code requirements) were exempted from the code changes and grandfathered in, as they have already been here for some time, said city planner Donna Glenz.