Basalt engaged in fowl debate
August 1, 2011
BASALT – A bunch of hens have captured the attention of the Basalt Town Council.
The council will be asked to decide if a homeowner on Sopris Drive may keep eight egg-laying chickens in her backyard after she allegedly ignored a ruling by a town staff member not to build a coop.
It’s a debate for the birds.
Homeowner Jennifer Riffle wants the council to amend the town code to permit chickens or at least give her written permission to keep her fowl.
Riffle declined to discuss the issue Friday with The Aspen Times. She said she wants to resolve it with the town before speaking.
In a letter to the town, Riffle explained that she met with a town planner and the town community safety-animal control officer about the proposed coop. She followed instructions to talk to her neighbors about keeping chickens, and she said they supported her endeavor.
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“At this point we thought approval would go through and we ordered chickens online,” Riffle wrote. “Several weeks later the chickens arrived, and kept in a brooder in our house.”
Riffle said town animal control officer Michael Hutton later informed her that the town staff wouldn’t grant permission to have chickens in an outdoor coop because of the risk of attracting predators. In a report to the council, Hutton said he consulted with the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Riffle also consulted a wildlife officer for advice on how to predator-proof her backyard coop.
“Our ladies are living a happy life in the fully enclosed coop and run, with one-half inch galvanized steel fencing that is buried four inches beneath the ground,” Riffle told the council. The base, midsection and roof were also electrified with 8,000 volts, enough to shock and scare but not permanently injure animals.
The young hens – Alphina, Mego, Panties, Blue Bantam, Sunny Side, Mellow and Mrs. T. – will be mature enough to lay eggs by October, Riffle said. She suggested that raising her own food fits well with Basalt’s heritage.
“Raising chickens is part of my history, along with the history of the land I reside upon, which used to be Mr. Eppley’s dairy with many chickens running around on it. There’s still one of his fruiting apple trees in the front yard,” Riffle wrote in her letter to the council.
But what was appropriate for Basalt in the past isn’t necessarily appropriate in the present, Hutton indicated in a memo to the council. He said he informed the homeowner on May 31 that the coop was being denied because of wildlife concerns. Hutton said he was in the neighborhood on July 7 to follow up on a trash violation when he noticed the coop has been built in the backyard of 710 E. Sopris Drive, ignoring the denial.
Hutton said he told the homeowners they needed to remove the chickens and that they could be fined. The planning office asked him to hold off on any penalties until the issue was taken up with the council. Hutton said this was the first request for chickens that progressed beyond getting approval from neighbors. Usually neighbors object.
“Regarding this request, the applicant was denied, went ahead, got caught and is now asking for forgiveness since they disagreed with the outcome,” Hutton wrote to the council.
James Lindt, the assistant planning director, advised the council to avoid discussing Riffle’s ongoing enforcement issue and focus instead on determining if it wants to discuss code amendments to permit chickens. The discussion is tentatively scheduled for the board’s Aug. 9 meeting.