PASCO — Amelia Larson hopes to use an empty chicken coop in her Pasco backyard to raise chickens with her four children.
The stay-at-home mom says it would be a chance for her kids to learn about raising their own food.
But whether the new coop's residents will be allowed depends on what the Pasco City Council decides about her request to allow chickens in residential zones.
Chickens are allowed only in residential suburban zones, but not residential zones, which have a smaller lot size. If Larson's request is approved, chickens and rabbits would be allowed in residential zones as well.
Families could then own up to three chickens in residential zones, with the total number of chickens, rabbits, dogs and cats capped at six for a single family home on a lot 5,000 square feet or larger, said Rick White, city community and economic development director.
Kennewick allows chickens in residential suburban zones but not other residential zones, unless the property was annexed into the city with the use grandfathered in and has continued to have chickens since annexation.
Richland allows chickens, except for roosters, and rabbits among permitted household pets, according to Richland municipal code. Each dwelling unit is limited to five household pets.
West Richland allows chickens and rabbits in residential zones. Homes are limited to two or five small animals, depending on density.
Larson said she and her husband, Jeff, never have owned chickens before, but she wanted to raise some of her family's food. At first, she thought chickens weren't possible in a residential neighborhood.
But her research found other cities did allow it.
So the stay-at-home mom sent a letter to the city asking officials to legalize small numbers of hens and rabbits in residential zones. And she included examples of ordinances from other cities like Seattle.
Larson said her family would likely try raising both, although they are most interested in chickens. Other families expressed interest in rabbits, prompting her to ask for both.
Chickens are among the easiest farm animals to care for and don't need much space, she said. And they don't make a lot of noise in comparison with other allowed pets, she said.
And Larson said they will eat almost any scraps and help fertilize gardens. That's a self-sufficiency she is looking for.
Her children, Gabriel, 12, Faith, 9, Asher, 6, and Elias, 3, are excited by the idea, and Gabriel spoke with Larson in support of the proposal before the Nov. 17 city planning commission, she said.
The city planning commission recommended that the council approve the change to city code.
Jason Caryl of Pasco asked the city council to support the measure. His family raised chickens when they lived in another area, and the joy his three children experienced and the things they learned from collecting eggs and cooking them was undeniable, he said.
But Glen Fry of Pasco said he doesn't like the idea of having a rickety old chicken coop near his home. If he wanted to live near livestock, he said he wouldn't have moved to Pasco.
Councilwoman Rebecca Francik said she thinks that if the city allows people to own large dogs, it's hard to say people can't have a couple of chickens.
"I find that dogs are much more annoying noise-wise than birds," she said.
Mayor Matt Watkins said he thinks using dog noise as a comparison isn't good because the city already has an issue with noise. Noise is the most common complaint he receives from city residents.
He said he would support chickens only if they were in or right next to the owner's bedroom.
But Francik said she grew up with chickens, and without roosters, they aren't that noisy. And they eat bugs in the garden and produce fresh eggs.
Councilman Al Yenney said he would support the measure but thinks that "hens" is too broad of a term. That could include guinea hens, he said.
The city council will continue to discuss the proposal at the Dec. 12 workshop meeting.
At first, Larson said she felt like she shouldn't bother. But the process has been relatively fast and city staff has worked with her, she said. She said she would encourage others who would like to see a change in city code to ask.
"Most people don't try," she said.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; email@example.com