Did the chicken cross the code?

Council to decide on new ordinance

Residences inside the city limits have always had the right to own cats and dogs, and on Tuesday night moved one step closer to have the right to house chickens too, provided they are hens.

The Cortez City Council Tuesday night voted 5-1 to move forward with a second reading and a public hearing next month. Council member Karen Sheek did not attend the meeting.

At the Aug. 7, 2012, Cortez Planning and Zoning Commission it was debated whether to recommend to the city council to allow six female chickens per residence with a $10 permit fee every two years. The henhouses would be required to be set back at least 10 feet from other residences.

That $10 fee requirement is still up in the air, according to the ordinance the council approved in a first reading.

The commission also discussed other communities doing this due to the sustainability of people being able to raise their own food.

At the request of the commission surveys were given to residents at three block parties the city held last year to receive input.

Of the 53 people that filled out the survey, 42 were in favor of adopting chicken regulations in Cortez while 11 were opposed to the idea.

Many of those in favor said they would like the opportunity to own some hens/chickens, while those opposed said they were too noisy, loud and messy and belonged on a farm.

In April 2012 Planning and Zoning Director Kirstin Sackett told the commission that the staff had received several requests to allow the keeping of chickens within the city limits.

Sackett told the commission that urban agriculture is making waves around the country, though the differences are mostly related to the attitudes of the populations within the communities.

Those results were shared with the commission in December and the favorable comments prompted a public hearing on Feb. 5 in which no one attended. No phone calls were received either. The recommendation to allow chickens on residential properties was forwarded to the council for its vote.

Sackett said most people who want chickens would probably do so for the eggs, adding the food would be local, healthier and less expensive.

According to the ordinance, chickens must be kept at all times within a fenced backyard of the owner's property as well as being kept in a secure predator resistant enclosure or confined or caged when transported.

The chicken enclosures must also be kept clean with no offensive odors, excessive dust or waste at all times, roosters are prohibited and that chicken enclosures must be kept in a manner that does not constitute a nuisance, safety hazard or health problem.

The council, by approving the first reading of the ordinance, set a public hearing for its next meeting on March 12.

Council member Bob Archibeque, the lone dissenter in the vote, wanted to know how residents would feel if a neighbor decided to build a chicken coop within feet of their homes.

"Being a city council member, one of my jobs is to understand how the (community) will feel about having a chicken coop that is 10 feet away," he said.

Sackett said there are always going to be disputes between neighbors over something.

Mayor Dan Porter said he would prefer to deal with chickens than the people who just let their dogs go and run wild.

Council member Shawana McLaughlin, who said she grew up on a farm, said the chickens will get out of their enclosed area, and added dogs will then kill them.

She also said when a chicken stops laying eggs the animal is usually slaughtered, and the chicken is what is for dinner that night.

McLaughlin also said that all of the people she has talked to are opposed to residents being allowed to have chickens in their backyards, so she and Sackett must be talking to different people.

Archibeque also wanted to know who would be controlling the odor from the chickens, which Sackett said would fall under the city's animal control officer.

Cortez Police Chief Roy Lane said his officers will not be picking up chickens like they would for a dog running at large.

"We have been dealing with chickens for years, and it is not a big problem," Lane said.

Council member Matt Keefauver said he cannot imagine a huge influx of people who would go out to get chickens if the council were to pass this into law.

The ordinance would repeal section 5-20 of the city's code that prohibited fowl or poultry unless they were at least 150 feet away from a residence, which Sackett said is almost impossible to do.

The proposed ordinance adds exceptions to the code, including having the municipal judge be the one responsible for imposing penalties and subsequent punishments for acts by the same owner or keeper for repeated violations and for the number of hens to be limited to six per residence.

michaelm@cortezjournal.com