Kelli Seals wants to change city code so that she and any other residents can raise chickens at home. As a supporter of what is called the local foods movement, Seals said she wants to have more control over what she puts in her mouth.
“I have been in my home in Sparks for about seven years now and I’ve gotten into gardening and been learning more about local foods, more about what goes into our food system and how our food is produced and brought to us, including plants and animals,” Seals, 34, said. “I really wanted to be a little more self-sufficient as far as having garden and producing my own food. Having chickens is a great way to get protein and they’re pretty easy animals to raise.”
On May 10, Seals asked the Sparks City Council to consider revising Municipal Code 20.29, which restricts the keeping of poultry to the city’s two agricultural areas, primarily near Los Altos Parkway and Sparks Boulevard, and pockets of both open and developed land designated with R1-40 zoning, mostly near the northeast corner of McCarran Boulevard. Seals said she would like to see Sparks follow the city of Reno and Washoe County in allowing some raising of chickens and bees as long as neighbors are not disturbed and proper handling is enforced.
Last year, Seals was raising chickens at her home in a coop she built in a converted dog run. A neighbor complained, citing concerns of avian flu, and the city made her get rid of them because her house was not properly zoned for keeping them. She told the council last week she wants to be able to keep two or three hens for eggs, not for their meat, and she won’t keep roosters because they’re too noisy.
Councilwoman Julia Ratti responded to Seals’ comments immediately in support.
“This is part of a national movement to allow folks to be more in control of their food sources and I support that,” she said.
Ratti said a number of residents in her ward, which encompasses downtown and many of the older neighborhoods of Sparks, also have asked her about keeping bees to make honey. As for drafting a proper ordinance for keeping such animals, Ratti said many urban areas have successfully changed their laws to allow residents to raise their own food. Seals said her native Las Vegas allows the raising of chickens and she also cited a September 2009 change in Elko, in which the city added hens to the definition of household pets. Elko now allows no more than two laying hens not used for commercial or breeding purposes to be kept in a secure chicken coop.
“While some are taken aback by the idea, there are a lot of places that do it and do it successfully,” Seals said. “It depends on writing good regulations that lends to it being successful in the community.”
Several council members raised possible concerns about Seals’ idea. Ward 4 representative Mike Carrigan said he wondered if animal rights groups would have a problem with chickens being kept in coops in people’s yards.
“I’m trying to imagine my neighbor if I were to throw a couple of chickens in my backyard,” he said.
Ward 5 representative Ron Schmitt said he was concerned about how far raising such animals at home might go.
“What if this well-intentioned single purpose becomes a nuisance over the whole community?” he asked.
“I don’t claim to be an expert on either chickens or bees but know that many communities across the country allow both the raising of chickens and personal bee-keeping in an urban environment and am confident that the city of Sparks will be able to work with community members to strike the right balance in our community,” Ratti said.
The council instructed city attorney Chet Adams to look into the legalities of the issue and bring it back to a future meeting for further discussion.