WHAT CAME FIRST: the rooster or the furious homeowner? When the Seattle Department of Planning and Development recommended changes to urban agriculture laws in June, including a ban on the loud-mouthed fowl, it unwittingly pitted animal-loving locavores against peace-seeking residents in a full-scale cockfight that’s likely to continue raging into September.
Since before the city had a zoning code, chickens have been welcome in Seattle’s backyards, offering wannabe metro farmers a taste of country living in their dense urban enclaves: Not only could they rest easy knowing that their scrambled eggs came from happy hens that roamed free behind the hedges, their feathered pets had a knack for turning some neighbors into friends. “We live in an area with lots of young kids, and I think the parents think it’s nice to have chickens around,” says Fionnuala O’Sullivan, a real estate broker who’s been tending a small flock on her Seward Park property for more than a year. “Anybody is welcome to go out and look at the chickens whenever they come by.”
The city’s chicken-friendly law didn’t distinguish between male and female birds, though, leaving the barn door open to roosters—and a nasty rash of over-the-fence spats. Magnolia native Harry Demers, whose neighbor has raised as many as three roosters over the last year, can’t cage his anger when describing the “evil opera” he endures every day. “You cannot live next door to roosters and have any peace of mind,” he said in mid-July.
Demers should have been relieved by the DPD’s proposal, but his feathers were still ruffled: City Council president Richard Conlin had stripped out the rooster ban before drafting legislation based on the department’s other recommendations (which included raising the limit of chickens allowed in one household from three to eight) because he was “reluctant to propose prohibiting something that was currently allowed.”
But the raging rooster rollercoaster wasn’t done. Despite support from urban-ag advocates like Ballardite Ingella Wanerstrand (“I know some people who love the sound of a rooster,” she says), Conlin caved in the eleventh hour and wrote the ban back into his legislation. “There have been enough complaints”—not a huge amount, he pointed out twice—“that it feels like there’s just not that much to be gained” by leaving the ban out, he said in late July.
The bill was scheduled for a vote in mid-August, and if passed, it will take effect in September. The only hitch for residents who, like Demers, are assailed daily by a cacophony of crowing: Existing roosters will be grandfathered in, so those homeowners will have to hope the chicken farmers on their block are as thoughtful as Wilma Stordahl. When the Ravenna resident and new urban farmer discovered that one of her baby chicks was a boy, she found it a new home. “I want to keep my good neighbor relations that way—good,” she says. “It bothered me to think that I might be a rude neighbor.”