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Ordinance really gets their goat

WHITE CITY — A regulation that has ruffled the feathers of local residents because it bans chickens, goats and other farm animals in backyards could get axed or modified by Jackson County commissioners.

"This whole valley is up in arms about it," said Lori Hutson, who received a notice of violation on Oct. 26 about her two dozen chickens off Antelope Road.

Hutson appealed this week to Commissioner C.W. Smith, who assured her the county would take a crack at resolving the issue and would discuss it at an upcoming meeting, maybe as early as this week.

"He said he's taking caring of it," Hutson said. "That's really quick."

Commissioners say they could revoke or modify the ordinance, but also pointed out that it might be difficult to change the regulation before Hutson's fines take effect.

The county, which enforced the regulation because of complaints from other neighbors, recently told Hutson and other owners of chickens and farm animals that they had a month to get rid of them or get a $600 fine. The fine could go up to $10,000 if not resolved.

Residents, who have fallen on hard times and depend on the eggs to make ends meet, wonder why they are being singled out, pointing to many other neighbors who have an assortment of rabbits, chickens, geese and goats.

In the county's Land Development Ordinance, it specifically cites the White City district as having a ban on cows, horses, alpacas, poultry, ostriches, emus, swine or fur-bearing animals.

In the rest of the county, farm animals are allowed, including up to 20 chickens an acre. Hutson lives on a 1-acre parcel on Antelope Road.

Smith, who owns a dozen chickens himself in the Eagle Point area, said he knew the county had an ordinance relating to White City Urban Residential District, but didn't realize chickens and other farm animals weren't allowed.

"I'm pretty confident we can figure something out," he said.

Commissioner John Rachor said he hopes White City residents don't get stuck with a fine while commissioners work on the ordinance.

"We don't want this woman to be a martyr because she can't feed her family," he said.

Rachor said the county has received more complaints about the chicken problem than it did when Jackson County was forced to close libraries in 2007 because of budget cuts.

A fix might not be easy, Rachor warned. The county may have to hold public hearings to modify the ordinance, and that could bring out other residents who support the idea of not having farm animals in backyards.

White City is a checkerboard of new subdivisions and older tracts of land, which might make it difficult for residents to come to an agreement over the issue.

Rachor said the county might allow hens, but not roosters, and he's not sure how many other farm animals might be allowed.

He said there are a number of legal and technical issues to resolve to get the ordinance changed.

In the meantime, residents are perplexed that they can't have a goat or a few chickens on their properties.

"That's ridiculous," said Angela Akers. "You'll see chickens in every yard down there."

The 46-year-old, who has an assortment of family members living with her because they are struggling financially, has three chickens, a feisty goose and a playful goat known as Rocket, or "the weed eater."

She lives across the street from Hutson and also received a warning of violation from the county. She has until Nov. 15 to get rid of the animals or risk the fine.

With so many mouths to feed, Akers had hoped to bring in more chickens.

"I was raised out here," she said. "When we lived in Medford, we had chickens there."

Looking around her 21/2;-acre property, Akers said, "There's nobody out here."

Residents around the county have rallied to Hutson's cause.

Kate Wood, a 64-year-old who lives in rural Central Point, said she would be willing to offer up space on her farm to foster care for Hutson's hens while the issue is sorted out with the county.

"If she wanted to temporarily house her chickens, that would be fine by me," she said. "We're stressing 'green' so much lately, so having chickens in a backyard should be allowed. Besides, these are hard economic times."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email dmann@mailtribune.com.

Earl Akers says he hopes Jackson County will change ordinances regarding farm animals in White City so he can keep Rocket, his pet goat, and other animals. - Bob Pennell