Sparks Fly Over Hatching New “Chicken Law” in Woodland Park

by Rick Langenberg:





After several months of speculation and considerable debate, “Chicken Day” has finally arrived in Woodland Park,

So for the evening of Dec. 5, bring plenty of popcorn and refreshments and maybe a sleeping bag to the WP City Council Chambers for what could emerge as a several-hour domestic fowl entertainment show. But leave your roosters at home.

Last week, the Woodland Park City Council by a 4-2 vote passed the initial reading of a new law that opens the door for residents to keep chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, pigeons and other domestic fowl at their properties in specific areas and under certain conditions. However, roosters have received the boot, according to the proposed ordinance. A final public hearing, slated for Dec. 5, will determine whether chickens can hatch their eggs in certain residential sections of Woodland Park, and outline the standards that chicken owners must abide by.

By taking this action to approve the first reading of the new “chicken law,” the council set the stage for a contentious debate as several council members have expressed much frustration over why they are grappling with such an ordinance. And at least one elected leader, who was raised in a more rural area, questions the impacts of chickens in residential neighborhoods, while some are worried about burdening the city with too many regulations and creating an enforcement nightmare.

At times during last week’s debate, City Manager David Buttery had to contend with a rebellious coop of leaders around the council table, who didn’t want to deal with any fowl pecking laws period. “Can you please just allow the staff to complete their presentation,” pleaded the city manager, on several occasions. “I this it is over-regulation,” blasted Councilman Gary Brovetto, at the beginning of a presentation by the planning department. “I am not a child. I don’t want to be treated like this.”

In a blunt manner, Brovetto argued that city officials have gone bonkers over trying to over-regulate a situation that can be addressed with current noise and nuisance laws. In a sarcastic manner, he stated that maybe the city should compile a new mice code to deal with problems that may arise with mice at his home. “Why do we have this particular ordinance on chickens? I have a problem with that,” stated Brovetto, who has questioned many of the city’s ordinances in recent months.

Several other council members echoed similar sentiments, but took a more diplomatic tone. “Do we need a donkey ordinance next?” questioned Councilman Bob Carlsen. He accused the city of singling out chickens with this particular law. “We are being overly prescriptive.”

Veteran Councilman Terry Harrison suggested that the city may end with egg on its face by addressing this law. He jokingly referred to the controversy over the “Chicken Man,” a costume character for the Wild Wings ‘n Things restaurant, who emerged as a symbolic figure in the town’s several-year debate over new sign rules and even attended several planning commission meetings, garbed in his familiar costume.

Even Mayor Pro Tem Eric Smith, who normally supports the city staff, joined the rebellious chorus. He questioned the Woodland Park attorney’s stand that just because current laws don’t address a particular use, it can’t occur. “Do we need to regulate cats?” added Smith.

In response to these concerns, Buttery explained that city officials were merely responding to a request from a group of local residents, many of whom have chickens on their property, to make such activities legal. Both he and City Planner Scott Woodford cited the new law as common in many municipalities. Moreover, Woodford said the measure would help address a growing movement towards local food production and the natural, sustainability lifestyle. Plus, Woodford believes that with more concrete rules, city officials would know where chicken coops are located and could monitor the situation better. “It helps keep people honest,” explained Woodford, in mentioning the importance of getting property owners to comply with actual rules regarding housing domestic fowl. Buttery admitted that the law may seem unusual, but the overall goal is to have reasonable and fair rules that protect domestic fowl owners and their neighbors. “The more you try to make things fair, the more difficult it becomes,” admitted the city manager.

Despite expressing much vocal opposition towards the concept of a “chicken law,” the ordinance critics on the council didn’t have too many problems with the details. These stipulate the amount of chickens a person can have on their property, the size of the coop and other sanitary requirements.

However, Councilman John Schaffer, who grew up in a rural section of West Virginia, raised a red flag about the pending chicken situation. “Chickens are noisy and dirty,” said Schaffer. The councilman also questioned the amount of chickens permitted at an individual residence, with six older chickens and six young chicks. “I don’t want chickens in my neighbor’s yard,” admitted Schaffer. During the final vote, Schaffer abstained from casting a tally. And although the measure got passed by a 4-2 margin, a few of the council members who supported the initial reading said they just wanted to move the process forward.

Based on the comments conveyed at last week’s meeting, the final “chicken law” hearing could get quite testy with plenty of fowl law critics and supporters.