Savanna wants to raise chickens

Savanna Randall, 9, holds a package of range-free eggs in front of the egg case at Safeway in Oro Valley's Rancho Vistoso community. She’d like to raise chickens at home for their farm-fresh eggs, but current Oro Valley code doesn't allow it. (Dave Perry/Contributor)

Savanna Randall, age 9, is seeking legal permission to raise chickens, and maybe a few miniature goats, on her family’s 1-acre piece of land in Oro Valley.

Currently, Oro Valley’s zoning code says “no.” Farm animals may be kept only in two Oro Valley zoning districts, with minimum lot sizes of 3.3 to 10 acres.

Savanna and her dad Ben approached the town staff, wrote a letter to the Oro Valley Planning & Zoning Commission, then appeared before P&Z on May 2 to request a change in the allowances. The commission has agreed to begin the process of a potential zoning code amendment.

“I told Savanna we would either have to break the rule, change the rule, or move” to have farm animals on their property, Ben told P&Z commissioners. The Randalls don’t want to move. “Then we have to change the law,” father told daughter.

Savanna, a redheaded fourth-grade student at Innovation Academy in Oro Valley, wrote down 25 reasons why farm animals should be allowed on Oro Valley residential properties. Without hesitation, Savanna recited them to commissioners with little reference to her sparkle-bound notebook, because “I’m better off the top of my head than...if I think about it,” she said later.

Among those reasons – “more outdoors and less screens” for young people; “good for weed and insect control;” “honors culture and cultural people;” “teaches emotional strength and resilience;” and “aligns with the town motto (which is “It’s in Our Nature”).

“I agree with all the reasons,” Ben Randall said. Animals could give Savanna “a lot of responsibility, and good lessons, some hard, some easy. And there’s nothing like farm-fresh eggs.”

Ben, his wife, Melanie, and children, Savanna and her brother Lucas, 12, have lived in their home on a 1-acre lot south of Tangerine Road for six years. Their property is outside any homeowners association. It has “beautiful views of the mountains, which is why we moved there,” Ben said. There’s more space and more freedom, he added... but not the freedom to raise farm animals.

“While there are a small percentage of properties that retained the right to keep livestock as part of a translational zoning following annexation, most residentially zoned properties in town do not permit the keeping of any farm animals,” town staff writes.

Those rules have not been updated “since at least 1981,” said Michael Spaeth, a principal planner with the town.

Most homeowners associations in Oro Valley have restrictions regarding farm animals, Spaeth said, “so any potential allowance for the keeping of small farm animals would mostly apply to larger lot developments, or where there are no homeowners associations.”

The city of Tucson recently updated similar standards, enabling “limited small animal husbandry with appropriate mitigation to limit impacts,” the staff report said. Commissioner Anna Clark said the Tucson code does not allow roosters, and she asked for similar stipulation.

“We will conduct the research, and do all the analysis,” Spaeth said after Savanna spoke, and the commission gave its approval for further inquiry.

“A lot of people were giving me compliments on how well I did for my age,” Savanna said.

“She doesn’t have a lot of fear in her,” Ben said.

“My favorite roller coasters are the scariest ones,” Savanna allows.

“Savanna, good job,” commissioner Kimberly Outlaw Ryan said. “It’s very nerve-wracking getting up in front of us, so awesome job.”

“We were assured it would be pretty easy” to change the rules, Ben said. “Come to find out it wasn’t.”

The Randalls intend to see it through, because Savanna is “a really big animal lover.” Animals love her, too. “Sometimes, if I lay down, all my dogs will come around and kiss me,” she said. Birds flock and chirp when she’s nearby, as if she’s a princess. Miniature goats caught her fancy when she accompanied her cousin to a goat yoga session, where the goats walk on people’s backs.

And, she said, “they are soooo cute.”

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