Chickens stir Rifle dust-up
Citizen Telegram Editor
RIFLE — Jake and Becky Mall have lived in their downtown Rifle home at 119 W. Sixth St. for decades, but they say the last year has been a nightmare.
What has kept them from enjoying their backyard in the summer sends foul odors through their kitchen window and keeps their Jack Russell terrier barking — chickens.
Their next door neighbors, Tom and Marney Long, 121 W. Sixth St., live in a home about 25 feet away. They raise chickens, which is allowed under city regulations. Another neighbor at 123 W. Sixth St., Abelina Salgado, has two chickens.
The city allows up to 10 chickens, which must be in predator-safe coops at night, can be in a yard with a 6-foot fence during the day, must not result in detectable odors beyond the property boundary, but does not require applications or permits. Inspections are done on a complaint basis.
“You may have a limit of 10 chickens, but there must be at least 50 birds there sometimes, because they don’t pick up the table scraps and feed,” Becky Mall told Rifle City Council at its Wednesday night workshop. “There was one chicken who was out of the yard for three days. Their lot is just not conducive to raising chickens.”
“It’s been a nightmare for us, and I’m not going to put up with it another year,” Jake Mall said. “I talked to a realtor and was told that having chickens next door would mean we would get at least 20 percent less if we were to sell.”
The Malls filed a complaint on Aug. 22, 2013, against the Longs, who told Community Service Office Dawn Neely that their chickens were only noisy when their neighbor’s dogs runs the fence and barks at them. Neely wrote in her report that the Longs said they clean their yard and chicken kennel regularly and wanted to issue a counter complaint against Jake Mall for his barking dog.
On an Oct. 7 follow-up visit, Neely wrote that she inspected the chicken area, observed and photographed fence extensions, the chicken coop as well as the chicken yard. Tom Long told Neely that his wife cleaned the yard daily and had used a vinegar and water solution to treat the concrete walkway to help control the chicken odors.
“I found the state of the yard to be consistent with Tom Long’s statement, and there was no noticeable odor at the perimeter of the yard,” Neely wrote. “This is a small yard with 10 chickens, and the chicken feces does seem to build up quickly.”
Neely also wrote that Tom Long said they are renting this house and were looking to move in the near future.
Neely also talked to Salgado about her fence height and complaints that her chickens were roosting at the top of her 3 1/2-4 foot fence and were able to get out (though were not leaving the yard).
Salgado made the necessary fencing improvements to be allowed to keep the chickens, said Planning Director Nathan Lindquist at the workshop.
Neely made a second follow-up visit on Nov. 13 and wrote that she saw several broken pumpkins in the backyard for the chickens to peck at; in previous visits there had also been vegetables in the yard for the chickens to eat that remained there for several days. Neely wrote that she talked with Marney Long and suggested she limit the amount of perishable feed to whatever the chickens could clean up in a day.
Mayor Randy Winkler proposed the city ban chickens within the Downtown Development Authority boundaries, which would include the Malls’ property.
Councilman Dirk Myers noted that a proposed 5,000-square-foot lot limit would likely do the same thing, and might ban all backyard chickens now being raised.
Councilwoman Barbara Clifton said in her North Rifle neighborhood, chickens are being raised “and it’s beautifully done. But they have the room, too.”
City Manager Matt Sturgeon warned that if the city went to the extreme and banned all chickens, “You will have a lot more people in here, all from the other side and wanting to keep their chickens.”
The council will consider formally adopting changes to the chicken regulations at a meeting in the near future. In the meantime, Clifton said the Malls’ situation might be resolved quickly by treating the ongoing situation as a violation of the city’s nuisance ordinance.
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