Great Goat Trend

Wonderful news this morning from Seattle: the City Council has reclassified miniature goats as “pets” rather than “livestock.” This means that residents can now keep goats within the city limits. There are restrictions, of course, but the big picture is what’s important: even urban dwellers can now keep these animals, which are the most environmentally friendly weed-wackers — and an excellent local source of meat and dairy.

The Seattle Times reports:

As of late, goats have gained the environmental status of hybrid cars and bovine-growth-hormone-free milk, prized for their ability to mow lawns without using fossil fuels. University of Washington and Seattle City Light recently hired herds to clear slopes of blackberry brambles.

Monday’s vote marked yet another gain for miniature goats, which are about the size of a large dog. Also known as pygmy or dwarf goats, the animals weigh between 50 and 100 pounds and grow to about 2 feet tall. Owners keep them as pets and sources of milk.

People who want to keep goats will have to license them like a dog or cat and get them dehorned. Male goats must be neutered — the unaltered male gives off a musky scent that some find offensive, goat experts say. To protect sidewalk gardens and park vegetation, goats will not be allowed in off-leash areas or anywhere outside the owner’s yard, with an exception: They can be lent to other owners to graze in their yards. Portland and Everett have passed legislation legalizing the goats.

[snip]

After researching the health risks and finding they were low, Conlin said, he proposed the new law because the goats can provide local milk and serve as “another link to the reality of where food comes from.”

Animal lovers, advocates of urban sustainability and children testified in favor of legalizing the goats at the hearing Thursday. One person criticized the change, saying goats can escape any enclosure and they prefer to eat roses.

Grant sees a pastoral future for Seattle populated with minianimals. “We would be a really charming city if we were a place people could keep minifarms with chickens, goats, a vegetable garden and fruit trees,” she said.

And get this, at the end of the piece:

Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck said there was more to be done. “Why stop there? Why not sheep, llamas … ? I think there is an argument that there are greater heights to be achieved with urban sustainability.”

I hope Steinbrueck runs for Mayor someday.

And I hope that other city councils around the country are paying attention.

Property Rights and Wrongs

A quick addendum and clarification about yesterday’s post concerning out-of-control real estate development going on in Seattle:

I am a big believer in property rights. One thing we like about living so far out in the country is that there are very few restrictions on what we can do with our land or to our house; we’ve never even had to get a permit for any of the extensive remodeling we’ve had done, or for the office building we had put up on the property.

Furthermore, my wife worked for some time as a lawyer at a public interest law organization that defended property owners against unjust eminent domain takings and regulatory injunctions that effectively rendered property useless. (“Sorry, we’ve now classified your 20 acres of prime view property as a wetland, and we’ve found an endangered species of rat living under one of the trees you want to cut down; you can’t build your dream house on it.”) We know very well the difficulties that government regulators can cause property owners.

I can therefore understand very well the position of someone who owns a large forested parcel of land, has watched the value of that land skyrocket, and finally sells that parcel to a developer. That’s his land, and his right, and there are lots of people back in my old neighborhood who seem to be eagerly exercising those rights. And if I was sitting on one of those parcels, and my kids were going off to college or I was preparing to retire, I’d be sorely tempted to cash it all in and get out of town myself.

But here’s the rub: communities also have rights. This is something we’ve run into as we’ve looked for houses in Michigan — there are zoning laws which restrict what a person can do with his property or what he can have on it. Sometimes, these are tough on small farmers; we’ve found a number of otherwise perfect houses, on 5+ acres, whose zoning forbids livestock. That’s a frustrating dealbreaker for us, but understandable. For some people, a neighbor with goats and chickens would be a real nuisance. If enough people in the community agree, they ought to have the right to exclude people like us from that community — just as my community ought to have the right to prevent an ethanol plant or water treatment facility from being constructed across the street.

My question is: Why should a new subdivision, that rips out and replaces the 10-20 acres of heavy woods bordering a long-established neighborhood, be viewed any differently? As a thought experiment: imagine someone wanted to take the same parcel of land and establish an organic goat dairy on it. Want to place a bet on which (the diary or the subdivision) would engender more community organizing and opposition?

What I’m questioning is why so many communities have become blinded to values other than “growth growth growth” and “maximum monetary profit.” Although there are certainly local building codes, and folks must get permits for turning a forest into a subdivision, no one in suburban Seattle seems sufficiently motivated (or organized) to try to slow the developers down or insist that new home developments be constructed in a “New Urbanism” style that maximizes walkability and possibilities for interaction with neighbors. And I’m not even coming at this from an environmental angle; the deforestation is bad enough in itself, but what’s possibly even worse is the degradation of community character — and loss altogether of a sense of community by the constant construction of these massive swaths of tract homes.

Others have written much more eloquently on this subject; I guess I’m trying to say that this weekend in Seattle I had my own first-hand epiphany as to the contrast between the kind of small community we now live in (and the close-knit neighborhood in which I grew up) and the kinds of “communities” that are rapidly taking their place.