The Spokane Valley City Council took their first crack Tuesday at new rules that would loosen restrictions on raising chickens in the city and tighten restrictions on what can and cannot go on in adult-retail establishments.
Both topics elicited passionate responses from those in attendance – seats were in short supply at the meeting – and it’s probably safe to say that not everyone will get what they want from the new regulations, which will advance for final passage on March 22.
With only four members of the council present – Council Members Bob McCaslin and Brenda Grassel were absent, and one seat remains vacant – the discussion on each issue was relatively swift. But nearly 90 minutes of time were spent on those two agenda items alone.
With regard to the adult-retail rules, the city is trying to clarify the distinction between adult-retail establishments (like Castle Superstore) and those that specialize in entertainment (such as Déjà vu). Currently, there is at least one business operating on Sprague Avenue that is licensed as the former, but has allows operations that are more appropriate for the latter – the viewing of adult movies in private “arcade stations.”
Under the new rules proposed by city staff, and reviewed by the city attorney, stores could no longer charge a fee to view movies, thus removing the profit motive.
However, detractors – including the majority of the Planning Commission – said such an amendment wouldn’t go far enough and suggested adding language that any viewing would be limited to promotional film clips “in full public view.”
Greater focus on the subject came in 2007 after court documents revealed that Hollywood Erotic Boutique, 9611 E. Sprague, was the location where a former west side legislator had met men for sexual liaisons in the arcade room area. The business had been granted a conditional-use permit in 2003 by the city to operate only as an adult-retail establishment.
Such activity, however, would not be curtailed by removing the profit incentive, said Wayne Lawson.
“They will find another way to profit from this loss-leader,” he said. “There’s no accountability.”
Richard Sloan came from Chattaroy to weigh in on the subject, which he said he found “rather offensive” that it was even being discussed.
“It’s my opinion that (these types of stores) shouldn’t be in business at all,” he said, adding that pornography leads to child molestation, rape and a host of other societal ills.
But under the Constitution and federal law, the businesses are legally allowed to operate somewhere. Shortly after incorporation in 2003, the City Council did set aside zoning for new adult-oriented businesses but allowed for the existing ones along Sprague to remain where they are as to not create a “red light district.”
“Our problem is one of enforcement,” said Council Member Bill Gothmann. “We need laws that are legally enforceable.”
For that reason, Gothmann, Council Member Dean Grafos, Deputy Mayor Gary Schimmels and Mayor Tom Towey all agreed that the staff recommendation would be the most legally defensible. They argued that if the change doesn’t go far enough, then there will be a record of infraction recorded that could be used for legal justification for strengthening the law.
“It’s a difficult issue,” Towey said, adding he was “hesitant” to endorse the Planning Commission version of the law since it would have different wording than any other ordinance in the state, thus making it an easy target for an expensive legal challenge. “I don’t think the taxpayers would want to spend that amount of money on a test-market ordinance.”
Also up for a final vote on March 22 are the new rules regarding raising chickens, which has ruffled some feathers in the community. Proponents have argued for the change, as the birds would provide a fresh source of eggs and meat (and lawn fertilizer), and also allow for educational opportunities for children.
While the new law would allow for fowl to be kept in all residential areas (one bird per 2,000 feet of lot space), no noisy roosters would be permitted and the hens would have to be rendered incapable of flight.
Currently, chickens can only be kept in lots greater than 40,000 square feet. Under the new rules, though, chicken housing would have to be 20 feet from front property lines, five feet from the side and rear property lines, and 15 feet from flanking structures. Also, coops would have to be kept at least 25 feet from other occupied structures.
While those who spoke were mostly in favor of the new rules, there were some questions if “incapable of flight” means clipping wings or simply keeping birds from escaping into neighbors’ yards.
“You don’t’ need to clip wings unnecessarily,” said Bridget Johnson. “Like, to keep a neighbor’s dog from coming over, I wouldn’t ask them to have the legs tied together or something.”
Cary Driskell, acting city attorney, said that keeping chickens in an enclosure would effectively be “keeping them flightless.”
Grant Rice endorsed the idea of allowing roosters, as long as property owners took the time to keep their birds quiet by “keeping them in until 8 a.m.) or putting them in dark enclosures.
“If you’re going to raise them for meat, you need roosters,” he said.
The council did not discuss the idea of removing the rooster ban, but Gothmann noted why the current law was originally put in place.
“Neighbors complained about the noise,” he said, but added, “I recognize that society changes.”