Sheila Papay watches her chickens at her home in Chandler, Ariz. (Michael Schennum / The Arizona…)
Proponents call themselves an underground society of backyard chicken owners. Arizona authorities are squawking that they’re just a bunch of code breakers.
In recent months, hundreds of Phoenix-area chicken owners have faced nuisance and zoning violations after neighbors griped about odor and noise – clucking hens and crowing roosters. They say poultry poses a health risk and doesn't belong near homes, claims that chicken owners vehemently dispute.
The clandestine chicken owners are accused of defying city zoning laws. City of Chandler code-enforcement officers say the poultry owners are violating an ordinance prohibiting chickens in most residential areas.
“I think these chicken owners have been getting away with it for awhile and now people are starting to complain,” Chandler police spokesman Joe Tyler told the Los Angeles Times. “And so the code enforcement folks are going out and telling them, you can’t have chickens.”
Some say the face-off is a result of a national movement toward urban agriculture, where a desire for locally raised, environmentally sustainable foods clashes with traditional ideas of what consists of a suburban neighborhood.
In Arizona, the resistance to backyard chickens depends on what city you call home. Cities such Phoenix, Tempe and Scottsdale don't prohibit the practice outright in residential areas. Phoenix requires owners to receive written permission from their neighbors or keep their coops at least 80 feet from the nearest home. That provokes some negotiations between annoyed neighbors and chicken enthusiasts, riffs often solved with baskets of fresh eggs.
But other cities, such as Glendale and Chandler, take a far more restrictive approach. Both cities ban chickens in most neighborhoods.
Chandler officials say they are considering loosening the anti-chicken ordinance after appeals from bird owners. “Local government is for everybody,” city spokesman Joe Phipps told the Times. "When people come to council and ask us to look at this, this is something important. Rather than say. 'Tough; go away,’ we’re looking at it.”
Chandler residents Joe and Sheila Papay are backyard chicken coop owners who were cited with a misdemeanor offense for keeping a half-dozen chickens. They don’t know what all the civic clucking is about.
"We've got quite a force of people who are behind us and want chickens," Joe Papay told the Associated Press. “It's like an underground society."
The couple started their roost as an experiment that began in December with four hens. They wanted to be more eco-friendly and reap the nutritious benefits of farm-fresh eggs.
Chandler police say they try to put the neighbors’ lives in perspective.
“Having chickens living next door,” Tyler told The Times, “would be a little aggravating, that’s for sure.”
But Phipps says chickens may indeed one day rule the suburban roost.
“It’s not that Chandler hates chickens,” he told the Times. “We have places for chickens, and it’s not in small backyards in suburban areas.”