Glenwood takes up chickens in the city
September 25, 2011
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Will the chickens come home to roost in local backyards, or will the city maintain its prohibition against fowl within city limits?
That question will come before the Glenwood Springs City Council on Oct. 20 in a staff report laying out the pros and cons of the idea of letting residents keep chickens in their backyards.
There appears to be considerable support on the side of backyard chicken coops and the birds that live in them.
For one thing, every other town in Garfield County permits residents to keep chickens on their private property, under a variety of conditions. And many other towns and cities around the county, including Denver and New York City, permit chickens to be kept on private property.
“I support letting people raise chickens,” said Mary Russell of Glenwood Springs. “I want people to eat locally.”
Russell said she buys eggs from someone keeping chickens in Carbondale, but would prefer to get her eggs closer to home.
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“If people are allowed to have dogs in their yards, they should certainly be allowed to have chickens,” said Roxanne Bank, a Carbondale resident who once lived in Glenwood Springs. She recently spoke before the Glenwood Springs City council in favor of revising the city’s chicken policy. Her message, speaking from experience, is that living next door to backyard chickens is no problem at all.
Jennifer Vanian, a Glenwood Springs resident recently ticketed for raising chickens in her backyard, also has asked the council to change the law and let the chickens roost here.
“I’ve raised them since I was 16 years old, and never really had any problems,” she said, arguing that it is better for people to eat locally produced foods that are fresh and come from a known source.
Chickens offer other advantages to the community, she said.
They offer a job for kids that teaches them about food production, which has more meaning than, say, keeping their rooms clean, Vanian said.
“I think it creates character, responsibility, compassion, as well as a feeling of being needed,” she said of the task of raising chickens. “And I think it goes a long way toward creating food security within a town.”
For instance, she recalled a time some years ago when an avalanche closed I-70 to Denver for three days. Grocery deliveries were interrupted, local supplies ran low and speculation was rife concerning serious shortages.
In addition, chicken waste is productive, she said.
“It creates great soil,” she said, and can be tilled into a backyard garden, forging another link in the local food chain.
Vanian has proposed rules that would permit up to six hens per household, but no roosters.
The chickens would have to be kept in covered outdoor pens, with fencing buried six inches into the ground to prevent escapes and keep out predators, among other proposed guidelines.
Her ideas are already in use in other towns around Garfield County. Most communities permit hens but no roosters, and place limits on the numbers of birds allowed.
While chickens have their ardent supporters, Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson said some object to chickens being kept by their neighbors. The worries center on odors, noise, and the possibility that a chicken coop could attract predators to the neighborhood.
Complaints about under-the-radar chicken keeping in Glenwood Springs have been “very sporadic, and very widespread” since he has been chief.
“The best one was, we had someone that had quite a flock of them at his house a number of years ago,” the chief recalled with a laugh. The very young chicks somehow got out of their coop.
“We had literally hundreds of these little chicks running rampant,” he continued, still chuckling.
“It was a terrible situation, absolutely horrible,” he concluded, tongue firmly in cheek.
More seriously, he said, residents have complained about the noise and odors emanating from chicken coops in a neighbor’s yard.
Vanian, who acknowledged that she was cited recently by police for having chickens, said her campaign to get the city law changed grew out of that encounter.
“My experience has been positive, with the police, and I’ve worked on it with the code enforcement officer,” she explained. “I’m trying to do this in a way that everybody wins.”
Glenwood Springs development director Andrew McGregor said his office is putting together “a white paper, if you will,” to be presented to the council at its October discussion.
“We see in our own professional literature that it’s happening all over the country,” said McGregor. The question for this community is whether there are “unique characteristics in Glenwood Springs that might make it problematic.”
One could be predators such as mountain lions, foxes and coyotes that might be drawn to a chicken coop.
“I think the devil is in the details,” McGregor continued, saying he will be checking with state wildlife officials, the county health department and other government entities as he puts his report together for the council.