Chickens stir debate on city code enforcers - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chickens stir debate on city code enforcers

August 30th, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Chickens stir debate on city code enforcers
Community
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By Ken Sain
STSN Managing Editor

The City of Chandler is moving forward on a plan to allow up to five chicken hens in residential backyards. 

Council indicated it would support such a move in the spring and asked city staff to begin researching what an ordinance would look like.

But there was one point Council was pretty firm on: It does not want the police to handle any neighborhood complaints because of chickens. Those complaints would have to go through code enforcement.

And critics say code enforcement is struggling to do its job now and that chicken complaints would overwhelm them.

Not so, says city staff.

“I think we actually have an extremely successful code program,” said Riann Balch, the city’s community resources manager. “We have really high-quality staff and a really tight system with great documentation and great data.”

Balch said the work on a chicken ordinance has been ongoing.

“Council wanted to be really thoughtful about this,” Balch said. “So between us and planning and zoning, there’s been a lot of research, we’ve researched exactly what every other city is doing in the Valley, compared and then spoken to every city about their challenges and what level of staff resources it takes.

“We will be having another discussion coming up with council about where they want to go on this.”

Two critics of current code enforcement and opponents of allowing chickens in residential backyards took the Arizonan on a tour of some Chandler neighborhoods, pointing out numerous problems that already exist. The residents did not want to be named.

The reporter then toured the same areas with city staff, asking them about those issues and their challenges.

Some of the violations pointed out were furniture abandoned in front yards, broken windows, fences that were leaning significantly, trash in yards, toilets left on sidewalks and in one case a truck missing a wheel held up by a jack – a possible safety hazard.

“We’re complaint-driven, primarily, but we do have an expectation that a minimum of 50% of our code inspectors’ case loads are proactive,” said Guy Jaques, the neighborhood services supervisor.

Many of the problem areas seen on the tours were in lower-income neighborhoods. 

“One of the issues is those types of neighborhoods, lower-income neighborhoods, is that people don’t tend to complain,” Jaques said.

Balch said money is not always the issue to correcting problems. 

The city is often able to work with a resident to find a way to address any problems. But in some cases, the homeowner is elderly and physically unable to do whatever work may be required.

Jaques said the usual process for code enforcers is when there is a violation, the homeowner will be notified by mail. They are given about two weeks to fix the problem.

He said 80% of the time the problem is addressed after only one citation. There will be a second inspection and if it is not fixed, then a second citation will go out. 

Defendants then have a week to fix the problem. If it is ignored, the case is referred to the courts for possible legal action.

Jaques said his team usually refers only a few cases to the courts each year.

“We want to work cooperatively together and find out what the real issue is,” Jaques said. “And if they need assistance, we have neighborhood programs that can provide volunteers, particularly if they’re elderly or they are a veteran. 

“There are volunteers that can assist them. There’s a tool-lending program we have. There’s other potential avenues of help we can provide them.”

The city has six neighborhood code enforcement positions. One is vacant after a new person started Aug. 8. There are also two commercial code enforcers. A separate unit handles alleys, so the neighborhood enforcers don’t deal with those issues.

Jaques said his team expects it will mostly get noise and smell complaints if the Council ends up approving a limited number of hens in residential backyards. 

He said that kind of complaint is hard to measure and will make it difficult to enforce. 

And code enforcers work a typical business schedule, meaning there’s no one to address any issues on weekends.

“Code violations are not usually an emergency, right?” Balch said. “So we don’t treat it like an emergency. We’ll start dealing with it on Monday morning.”

Balch expressed confidence the current code enforcement staff and procedures can handle any chicken complaints in addition to their current work load.

“Every city is always going to have challenges, especially in lower-income areas where people have less means and time and effort to be able to keep up their homes,” Balch said. 

“But, on the whole, I really believe Chandler is in great shape. And we have a system to really respond to these areas. If they just let us know what they are, what their challenges and concerns are, we will absolutely address it.”

Code Enforcement

To file a complaint, visit chandleraz.gov and search for code enforcement. In addition to filing complaints, you can look up your address and find out who your inspector is. There’s also an app, Chandler PublicStuff. You can call or text 480-782-4320. 

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