Backyard livestock has some crying fowl

Washougal residents urge change to laws on animals in urban spaces

Matthew Sauer's chicken coop extends behind the houses of Tim Hagensen and Larry Buhrmester. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

Several Washougal residents have asked city officials to provide stricter regulations for the ownership of fowl and livestock within city limits.

The residents live next to or near a bungalow at 1669 N. 18th St., in Washougal, which houses about 35 chickens and seven pigs in its backyard.

The 964-square-foot house was purchased in April 2018 by Matthew Sauer, who currently resides in Japan. His father, Jeff Sauer, lives in the house and cares for the animals.

Several neighbors told city leaders during two July city council meetings that the smells and noises generated by the animals are unseemly and unwanted.

“I grew up on a farm when I was younger. I always thought that if you wanted to have a farm, you lived out in the country,” Washougal resident Jim Baldwin, who lives on 17th Street, said at the July 8 Washougal City Council meeting. “I believe with fowl and stuff like that, if you have a few, (that’s OK), but hogs or whatever in the city? I don’t agree with that — especially with the smell and how the wind blows.”

Tim Hagensen, a neighbor of the Sauers who owns a home on North “Q” Street in Washougal, collected 35 signatures on a petition, which he passed on to city code enforcer Sherry Montgomery, that asks the city to allow no more than six chickens per household and no livestock.

Hagensen said that the Sauers are using his backyard fence as one side of their animal enclosure. He also pointed out that the Sauers’ chicken coop extends behind not only Hagensen’s yard, but the yards of the two houses to the immediate east.

“What if we take our backyard fence down? Then what? They have to have something enclosed on their property and not use another person’s fence to do this with,” Hagensen said. “I tell people, ‘It’s fine unless it’s by your house. If nobody knows about it, it’s not a problem, but if you live there, (it’s a problem).'”

“Washougal is a better city than this,” Hagensen continued. “They shouldn’t allow that in the city limits. It’s wrong. Washougal is the only city that I know of in Clark County that (allows) this. You shouldn’t have to put up with that living in the city.”

Hagensen believes that his recent, unsuccessful efforts to sell his house were severely hindered by the Sauer residence.

“(This situation) devalues the properties to the point where I don’t know the price that you could sell them. I don’t want to find out, either,” he said. “I talked to a Realtor, and I told him I was not going to list it until we got this settled. We’re going to rent the house instead of selling it until something changes. I haven’t put a price on what somebody would want to buy it for. All I hear is, ‘No, it’s not going to happen.'”

Matthew Sauer told the Post-Record he confirmed with Montgomery that his animals would be allowed in his backyard before putting them there.

“I bought the house with good intentions,” he said. “I went around and asked the neighbors how they felt about (the animals), and I received no complaints.’ Now that I’ve done it, everybody’s complaining. I didn’t come into this not caring about the neighbors.”

“I understand their complaints,” he continued, “but the reality is that we’re all free Americans, and we’re allowed to do this on our property. If it’s my legal right legally to do this, I’ll say, ‘Tough luck.’ I’m sorry. That’s the way it’s written. If the (ordinance) changes, I will comply, like I comply with every other law. But if I’m grandfathered in, I won’t stop. I’m going to stand by my legal rights. If you don’t stand up for things that you believe in, why be an American in the first place?”

Hagensen’s parents lived in the house at 1642 N. Q Street last year when the Sauers were checking with the neighbors, “but my folks weren’t in the state of mind to say, ‘Down the road this isn’t going to be good,'” Hagensen said. “I think they thought that it was going to be, like, three chickens.”

Matthew Sauer said he is taking steps to reduce the noise and smells.

“We’re working on putting a shed over the pig feeder and tying the pig feeders up so they won’t make noise,” Jeff Sauer said at the July 22 city council meeting. “We hauled in 14 yards of sand to cover up the manure and stuff. We got a pig feeder with eight doors that open and close, and we’re going to build a cover and walls and I can tie the doors up so that noise will go away here in the next week or so.”

Matthew Sauer said he “grew up on some acreage” when he was young and looked forward to having animals on his property when he purchased his first house.

“Look at our ancestry. We all raise things to live. The price of food is going through the roof. We’re just trying to live here,” he told city councilmembers by speakerphone during the July 22 meeting. “When that time (comes) that we butcher or get any eggs, we try to give what we can give away.”

“This meat and eggs that we’re raising, we’re not raising it for profit. We’re raising it for our family and friends,” he continued. “We’re raising it for people in the community. People in this room are worried about their property value instead of what we’re giving to the community. I feel it’s very important to give back.”

However, Hagensen said that the Sauers have tried to sell their products to area residents.

“They wanted $4 for a dozen eggs,” Hagensen said. “But just because you can hand something to someone, that doesn’t make it OK. They’re not helping the community. They’re helping themselves. Who are they kidding? It’s not about getting free eggs or cheap pork or anything. They could give us bacon and eggs 365 days a year and it’s still not OK.”

Hagensen said that “this is not a fight that you run away from,” and that he will stay involved for the betterment of the entire city.

“What if the whole town goes to this?” he said. “If it affects more people, there’s going to be an uproar. If it was next to the mayor’s house or city council (members’) houses, they wouldn’t have waited to do something about it. This is just barbaric.”

Matthew Sauer said he believes Hagensen’s motivations will decrease once Hagensen sells his house.

“He’s not going to care what happens three months from now,” he said. “He’s only looking out for his best interests.”

The neighbors contend that the city has been neglecting to enforce its own policy on this matter.

According to the Washougal Municipal Code, chapter 8.04: “It is unlawful for any person owning or having in their possession any chickens, ducks, geese or turkeys to allow them to run at large within the city.”

The ordinance went into effect in 1912 and hasn’t been updated since.

“It’s laughable,” Hagensen said. “Because no one has complained is not justification for (not making changes). Just because the Washougal government has chosen not to act on anything for 100 years, that doesn’t make it OK. Sherry told me that no one has ever petitioned to change this. I don’t think the city should wait until somebody is an uproar over it to make reasonable codes. I’m still amazed that this has never come up before.”

Washougal City Manager David Scott told the Post-Record there had been a similar conversation “about 10 or 12 years ago” that didn’t result in an effort to change the code.

“I think it involved chickens, and somehow it took care of itself and the council didn’t have to step in,” Scott said. “This issue hasn’t bubbled up in terms of the nuisance to where it became a policy issue that the council needed to address.”

The city’s community development committee has begun to explore this topic and will eventually make a recommendation to the city council, possibly by next month, according to Scott.

“There is a best way to do it, and we’ll find that best way,” Scott said. “It will either be in the zoning provisions or the nuisance provisions. We would love it if the neighbors could resolve the concern all on their own, but this has raised an issue that I think the city will need to intervene (to resolve). What will happen remains to be seen, but I would anticipate potentially some changes.”

Scott added that he wouldn’t be surprised to see the code change to reflect a need for setbacks, screening and limitations on the number of animals allowed in urban backyards.

“Whether there will be a prohibition of livestock, I don’t know,” Scott said.

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