Animal keeping ordinance to get second reading

By: Laura O’Brien Loomis News Correspondent
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Loomis residents wanting to own a few hens may soon get their wish. Amendments to the town’s animal-keeping regulations face one last hurdle at the second reading at Jan. 10 Town Council meeting. If approved, the ordinance amending the animal-keeping code will go into effect 30 days later. The changes allow up to four hens on lots smaller than one-half acre – a switch from the previous policy that regulated chicken-keeping according to zoning district. Under the new ordinance, roosters and slaughtering will be prohibited in the RS zoning district, though. Chicken owners were awarded another concession in a reduction to the distance coops must be set back from property lines, neighboring homes and streets. In a second review of the animal-keeping code at Town Council’s request in November, the Planning Commission reduced required setbacks for fowl and poultry from side and rear property lines from 25 feet to 20 feet in all zoning districts. The commission also reduced poultry setbacks from streets and dwellings from 50 feet to 20 feet. In its reviews of the Loomis code, the Planning Commission also considered laws governing animal keeping in Rocklin, Roseville, Placer County and Colfax, as well as a new chicken-keeping ordinance in Nevada City. “I’m really glad to see Loomis stepping up to what’s going on in other communities nearby,” Cynthia Walden said in an interview. Walden was one of the parties in the neighbor-versus-neighbor dispute that precipitated the recent review of animal keeping. “To think that we were really not allowing (residential chicken-keeping) is not what Loomis wants to be known for. We are rural Loomis and I think that it’s important that we keep that.” The proximity of Walden’s animal pens to neighbor Kathleen Giel’s property line was part of Giel’s 2009 complaint against Walden. Giel also noted that Walden owned more than the allowed number of chickens, pygmy goats, and dogs and cats for the zoning district. There has been disagreement among councilmembers and the community regarding the setback requirement for animal shelters. Councilman Gary Liss recommended using neighboring dwellings as the basis for measuring setbacks, rather than the existing combination of property line setbacks and setbacks from dwellings. Planning Commissioner Jean Wilson said the commission considered establishing setbacks solely from neighboring dwellings, but commissioners feared pens might be placed close enough that they would impinge upon a neighbor’s enjoyment of features in his backyard such as pools and patios. “The overall opinion was that we need to keep the setbacks from property lines,” Wilson said. At the December council meeting, Councilmember Rhonda Morillas encouraged Council to move forward with the proposed animal-keeping changes. Councilman Walt Scherer led a motion that included an exception from the required setbacks for animal shelters for large lots. The motion, which Town Attorney Jeffrey Mitchell drafted, allows side and rear setbacks to be reduced to zero on large lots provided that the animal shelter does not interfere with emergency access and is not too close to a neighboring dwelling. The motion also reduced the setbacks for aviaries to match the requirements for fowl. Members of the public did not have an opportunity to comment on the motion. Giel spoke in favor of the ordinance during public comment at the Dec. 13 council meeting. “I appreciate all the work that’s been done on the ordinance,” she said. “There’s really nothing that’s perfect, but this sure seems to be a lot closer to being perfect.” Other changes to the animal-keeping code include: reclassifying pygmy goats as small animals instead of large animals; permitting residential worm farming; reducing the space requirement for animal husbandry projects, such as for 4H, from an acre to a half acre; and prohibiting kennels from abutting a residential zone. The Planning Commission also added the boilerplate language “Animals must be kept according to local and State animal control welfare laws.” The Planning Commission reviewed the provisions relating to dogs and cats at Council’s request, but made no changes to them.