by Rick Langenberg:
Despite voicing concerns over a detailed, domestic fowl law in Woodland Park, the city’s elected leaders have unanimously agreed to let chickens peck freely in the older, residential sections of town.
Following much debate last Thursday, the WP City Council opened the door for Woodland Park to become a “chicken, duck, pigeon and turkey” community after all, even though these fowl owners will have limited opportunities locally. But the city’s gate remains closed for roosters.
By a 6-0 vote, the council put an end to a somewhat comical controversy that has been the source of many jokes, editorial columns, humorous headlines and local conversations for months. With only a few minor changes, including a more defined limit on the amount of fowl a person can have on his/her property and modified fees for fowl owners, the council okayed the new “Chicken Law.” And following another lengthy discussion, a few elected leaders still expressed much frustration over the “Chicken Law” ordeal. “It bothers me that we have to regulate something to make it easier,” said veteran Councilman Terry Harrison, who shook his head after a final decision was rendered. “I really do not like government.” “It’s a fine line between regulating and not regulating,” said Mayor Pro Tem Eric Smith, who challenged the city officials on a number of issues pertaining to the proposed law. “It’s not about chickens,” added Mayor Dave Turley. “It was about process.” The debate also had its lighter moments, with humorous comments by a council member, who admitted she once named various chickens on her property after the various mistresses of former President Bill Clinton. Plus, representatives of the “grow your own food” movement spoke favorably about the new law and the health benefits. And one domestic fowl owner displayed samples of fresh chicken and duck eggs.
In the end, the council opted to approve the law because they believed it would protect the rights of chicken and domestic fowl owners and their neighbors.
At the outset of the debate, the city staff cleared the fowl air by cautioning the council that the impetus behind the new “Chicken Law” was prompted by a citizens’ petition and not by Woodland Park officials. City Planner Scott Woodford noted that the proposed law was orchestrated to protect the rights of WP property owners who owned chickens and wanted to make these rights valid, along with an interest in protecting the interests of their neighbors.
Currently, the city doesn’t address this issue in its land use code. And according to one interpretation by City Attorney Erin Smith, that means these rights aren’t currently legal due to the fact that Woodland Park is an urban area and growing chickens could be viewed as a particular property use that isn’t “natural.”
However, this interpretation was challenged last week by several council members, including the mayor pro tem. “Why are we even talking about chickens? questioned Councilman Eric Smith. He noted that cats are not mentioned in the city’s code, and so he wondered if felines are the next targeted animal in Woodland Park.
Not a natural right
However, the attorney reiterated that domestic fowl are not considered “a
normal and natural” right many associate with an urban town like Woodland and so the city needs to address this issue through adopting a new ordinance to allow chicken owners to legally exercise their rights.And a few current owners of domestic fowl urged the council to follow the attorney’s advice and approve the ordinance during last week’s hearing. Lee Willoughby, who has been involved in local beatification efforts, cited a growing movement by residents who enjoy growing their own food and “take responsibility for their health.” Unless the new law was passed, he feared that local citizens wouldn’t be allowed to raise chickens in any section of Woodland Park.
Norma Engleberg, a reporter for the Courier View newspaper who raises domestic fowl in the west section of Colorado Springs, echoed similar sentiments. She also displayed examples of domestic chicken and duck eggs. “They are as fresh as you can get,” said Engleberg. “I can control what I eat.”
At the same time, she questioned the length of the current law and suggested that the city could achieve its same purposes through a several paragraph ordinance. Former Councilman Jon DeVaux, who now serves on the planning commission, urged the council not to get swayed by the emotions surrounding this issue. “This is not an anti-chicken ordinance,” said DeVaux. “This isn’t to prevent anyone from having chickens.” He described the law as an example of the city’s commitment to having design standards. “It has to be compatible,” added DeVaux. He said the purpose of the law is to allow people to “grow all the chickens you want, but do it with some guidelines.”
DeVaux was referring to specific rules that outline the allowable size of a chicken coop, the amount of domestic fowl permitted on a person’s property and regulations that require zoning permits for chicken owners.
Several council members questioned the extent of these rules. Councilman Gary Brovetto inquired about the consequences of doing nothing and letting people have as many chickens as they want and to let current nuisance rules dictate the situation. But most council members frowned on this idea, based on the advice of the city manager and attorney. “We have to protect the property rights of those who don’t want the chickens,” said Councilwoman Carrol Harvey, who received a few laughs when she related how she nicknamed some of the chicks she previously raised on her property after the mistresses and girlfriends of former President Bill Clinton.
After toying with various amendments, the council endorsed the new “Chicken Law,” but imposed more limits on the amount of domestic fowl a person can have and relaxed some of the proposed fees.
In reality, the new law won’t have much of an impact on the residential landscape of Woodland Park. Based on zoning and homeowner association restrictions throughout Woodland Park, chickens can only be hatched in the older sections of town.