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NEIGHBORS FLOCK TO BACK FAMILY’S RACING PIGEONS

SHARE NEIGHBORS FLOCK TO BACK FAMILY’S RACING PIGEONS

Raising racing pigeons is what Roger Rigby and his family do for fun. He has an expensive loft in his back yard full of about 60 expensive pigeons.

About 10 times a year he and about 15 other members of the Utah Valley Racing Pigeon Association take their pigeons to different parts of the country and turn them loose - sometimes as far away as Canada. Whichever pigeon gets back to its loft the fastest wins. Racers calculate the exact yards per minute a pigeon flies by stamping a band on its leg when it returns to the loft.Rigby trains his pigeons by freeing them daily for a quick flight around the city, after which they return directly to loft.

"My neighbors like watching them fly, and nobody complains because they know my pigeons fly around for a while and don't land anywhere but the loft," he said. "That's the key to racing, getting them back into the loft as soon as possible so I can get the bands off their legs."

Unless Rigby can convince the Springville Planning Commission that pigeons are good for much more than a messy sidewalk, however, his family will have to find another hobby. Last month he was told by city zoning administrator Hal Burrows to get rid of the pigeons.

"I couldn't do this anywhere else because it would take me away from my family, and it's something my kids really enjoy helping me with," he said.

Rigby, a professional photographer, raised racing pigeons as a child. Two years ago while photographing pigeons in Oklahoma, his interest in raising pigeons returned. He went to the Planning Commission for permission to raise the pigeons in his back yard.

"To calm any concerns, I tried to do it the proper way, and it backfired," he said.

The Planning Commission told Rigby that pigeons are allowed only in agricultural areas and large-lot residential zones on the outskirts of the city. Rigby lives in the middle of town.

"Most people who raise pigeons don't ask for permission, and the cities they live in don't say anything," he said.

Because no other pigeon racers faced the same dilemma as Rigby, he ignored the Planning Commission's ruling and started raising pigeons anyway. He felt he just needed to educate city officials that the pigeons would not infringe on neighbors' property.

After receiving a notice to correct, however, a frustrated Rigby turned to the City Council for help. He was referred back to the Planning Commission, but this time with the council's backing. The council voted unanimously to recommend to the Planning Commission that the zone text be changed to allow racing pigeons as a conditional use.

"This is a constructive recreational opportunity with the family, and I think it would be a shame if we denied him this opportunity," Councilman Gordon Smith said. "We should be encouraging these kinds of activities, not discouraging them."

"I think there's a difference between these pigeons and those that hang out on buildings and make a mess," Councilman Chris Sorenson said. "This is an activity that is regulated by associations that have much stricter guidelines than we could put in place."

Nationwide the American Racing Pigeon Union has about 30,000 members. About 300 Utah residents raise racing pigeons. The Salt Lake area has several smaller organizations similar to the one Rigby belongs to. All the organizations have policies that protect the sport's public image.

"We have certain things that we do to police ourselves," Rigby said. "If any club members are not keeping their loft in a healthy condition, then they are not allowed to race."

Dozens of Rigby's neighbors signed a petition saying they support his activity. No one has come out against his pigeons.

"People have this fear of birds, that they are all over the place making a mess everywhere. That's just not the way it is," Rigby said.