The issue of chicken ownership in city limits returned to roost Tuesday, with members of Durango City Council agreeing to brood over the topic in a series of public meetings before hatching any definite plans.
At a City Council study session, members of the planning department briefed council members and City Manager Ron LeBlanc on the status of chicken ordinances in other cities and the pros and cons of backyard hens. Councilors then decided to pursue the issue.
"I think there's enough public interest that I would hate to see this die, even though only a few people would, I think, sign up," said Councilor Michael Rendon.
He said even though he thought interest in the idea would wane and hidden costs, such as heating the coops in winter, would drive away some who at first supported the cause, the idea has merit.
Mayor Renee Parsons, LeBlanc and councilors Rendon, Scott Graham and Leigh Meigs sounded as if they agreed that a new policy regarding chickens should be devised, but, with so many ways to draft the policy, public comment would be necessary before a Durango-appropriate ordinance is moved forward.
Chicken proponents cite the low cost, convenience, low environmental impact and even the pesticide-free taste of home-farmed eggs as planks in their platform.
A countrywide push began near the beginning of the recession for Americans, especially those who live in urban environments, to start growing more of their own food. Using low-impact farming techniques and keeping the food grown close to where it is consumed is the mantra of the grow-local movement.
Many cities in the West, such as Denver; Fort Collins; Salt Lake City; Missoula, Mont.; Albuquerque; and Santa Fe already have enacted ordinances allowing chickens to be kept in town for personal egg and fertilizer production. Few of the municipalities, though, give carte blanche to chicken owners.
Last year, the Fort Collins City Council agreed to allow residents only as many as five hens. In a condition common to many municipal chicken ordinances, no roosters are allowed to be kept in Fort Collins. Some cities restrict the size and positioning of chicken coops; others have one-strike complaint policies.
Boulder has no chicken-related ordinance, and residents may keep as many chickens as they want because chickens are not listed among the exotic animals the city has banned.
On Monday, the city of Longmont began selling permits to interested backyard chicken farmers. The Longmont Times-Call reported Tuesday that the town decided to cap the number of $30 permits at 50 households because councilors were concerned about overloading the city's Animal Control department.
But the question of chickens in Durango city limits bothers some.
Mark Willliams, a planner with the city of Durango, said residents in communities that allow chicken ownership occasionally complain about the smell of the animals and of regular escapes. It is also thought, he said, the animals attract rodents and help transfer disease.
Meigs noted a paradox in keeping plump and easy-to-catch bear food at the border of urban and wild environments in the name of environmentalism.
"We have to decide what we want to confront as a rural community," she said. "Is it more sustainable to keep mountain lions outside of town or to grow our own food?"
Meigs and others said they would like to hear what residents think first. Councilors will hear public comment in at least two public meetings before taking action. No dates for the meetings have been set.