Cocka-Doodle, a pet rooster belonging to the Gary and Joy Robbins family, is learning that being one of his species is nothing to crow about. At least, it's nothing he had better crow about within the limits of Salt Lake County.
It was Cocka-Doodle's crowing, particularly at dawn, that elicited a complaint from one of the Robbins' condominium-living neighbors and got the banty in trouble with the City-County Health Department.The Health Department told the Robbins that Cocka-Doodle was in violation of department noise regulation 21.7.0 and would have to go. But the family said no and has appealed the ruling to an administrative hearing, where Cocka-Doodle's fate, or at least his place of residence, may be decided.
It's a classic story of city lifestyle vs. country livin' - or perhaps more accurately, a perfect illustration of urban unincorporated Salt Lake County encroaching upon formerly rural areas that have been zoned for agricultural use since the county first developed its zoning ordinances.
When the Robbins family first moved to the Salt Lake area eight years ago, they specifically searched for a home in a neighborhood zoned for farm animals.
"We've always had animals and we wanted out kids to grow up with animals around," Joy Robbins said.
They bought two-thirds of an acre at 1050 E. Vine Street and moved into the house with their three daughters, while stabling assorted chickens, ducks, geese, goats, lambs, dogs and cats in the outbuildings.
They felt comfortable because many of their neighbors kept farm animals too, and the county-owned Wheeler Historic Farm with its barnyardful of creatures was just down the creek a few yards.
But about three years ago a condominium development was built nearby. One of the condo buildings was constructed right behind the Robbins' property, separated from an animal shed by only a six-foot wooden fence and a dozen feet of space.
Earlier this year one of the neighbors in the condos began telephoning the Robbins to complain about Cocka-Doodle's habit of crowing at first light, which during summer daylight saving time can come as early as 4:30 a.m.
The neighbor, who has never identified himself to the family, filed a complaint with county zoning officials. But zoning inspectors, after a visit to the property, concluded that the area is zoned A-1 for agricultural use and residents are allowed to keep up to 50 chickens.
But the neighbor then complained to the health department that Cocka-Doodle was a noisy nuisance. Health department employees last week delivered a notice of violation to the Robbins and said the family had 10 days to get rid of the rooster.
Health department regulation 21.7.0 says it's "unlawful for any person to produce, continue, or cause to be produced or continued any noisy disturbance within the limits of Salt Lake County."
Patti Fricks, director of sanitation and safety for the health department, says her office investigates 300-400 noise complaints annually. "Noise is subjective," Fricks points out. What is music to one person's ears can be disturbing to another.
"We're not here in an adversarial role," Fricks said. "We're mediators. And interpreting the regulations is just part of our job."
The department accepts anonymous complaints so no one will be intimidated to complain about a noise nuisance, she said. Inspectors are dispatched to check that each complaint is reasonable, and Fricks admits not all are legitimate.
"We want to be good neighbors," Joy Robbins insists. About 40 other neighbors have written letters to the health department showing support for the family and its rooster.
"They made the choice to live here knowing this was an agricultural area," she said of the complaining neighbor. She wonders if Wheeler Farm will be the next to feel pressure to get rid of its animals, and she vows to fight to the bitter end for Cocka-Doodle.
"It upsets me that someone unidentified can come into your life like this, and with one phone call the health department is ready to take your animals away," she said. "If you go to court at least you get to face your accuser."