Colorado Table

Plan to allow chickens in Aurora ruffling a few feathers

“They just started laying them,” she said, beaming. She bought the three heritage hens six months ago, in spite of a law that bans backyard chickens in residential neighborhoods like Seven Hills in Aurora. That may soon change.

AURORA | Fluffing her feathers and cooing, the amber bird called Chicken Little is coaxed out of her wire-enclosed pen. Two others who are zebra-striped follow, darting toward their owner’s hand.

Their own Veronica puts down the feed and walks over to the coop to fetch two pink eggs.

“They just started laying them,” she said, beaming. She bought the three heritage hens six months ago, in spite of a law that bans backyard chickens in residential neighborhoods like Seven Hills in Aurora. That may soon change.

  • AS.Backyard Birds.0087.112511.WEB

    The issue of whether or not to allow chickens in Aurora is being discussed, Nov. 25 in Aurora. Chicken advocates are fighting for their right to keep their feathered friends in Aurora backyards. (Danielle Shriver/ Aurora Sentinel)

  • AS.Backyard Birds.0039.112511.WEB

    The issue of whether or not to allow chickens in Aurora is being discussed, Nov. 25 in Aurora. Chicken advocates are fighting for their right to keep their feathered friends in Aurora backyards. (Danielle Shriver/ Aurora Sentinel)

  • AS.Backyard Birds.0020.112511.WEB

    The issue of whether or not to allow chickens in Aurora is being discussed, Nov. 25 in Aurora. Chicken advocates are fighting for their right to keep their feathered friends in Aurora backyards. (Danielle Shriver/ Aurora Sentinel)

  • AS.Backyard Birds.0022.112511.WEB

    The issue of whether or not to allow chickens in Aurora is being discussed, Nov. 25 in Aurora. Chicken advocates are fighting for their right to keep their feathered friends in Aurora backyards. (Danielle Shriver/ Aurora Sentinel)

A revision to Aurora’s policy that only allows chickens in sparse agricultural zones was discussed at a committee meeting Nov. 26.  It would permit homeowners in residential zones to own up to six chickens if they pay a one-time fee, receive a permit, and provide the hens with adequate fencing from predators, and that the chicken coop is at least 15 feet from other homes. Roosters would not be allowed, and owners could not kill unwanted hens themselves under the revised law.

At a bookstore earlier in the week, members of a newly formed advocacy group called Chicks In Aurora shared their trials with chicken smuggling under current Aurora law.

Francisco Sanchez sat next to his four-year-old son Zeke and spoke about the three hens they lost a few weeks ago, when Animal Care patrolled their Havana neighborhood looking for stray dogs.

The patrollers instead heard clucking, and wrote a citation.

“Getting the eggs was the favorite thing everyday for the boys,” said Sanchez of something his two sons missed with Delia, Henry Goliath and Lexi, now gone. His son Zeke said he missed petting them. The hens now live as “refugees” with a family in Denver where they are permitted, Sanchez says.

Schelli Nimz, who’s lived in Aurora for 11 years, compares the city’s stance on chickens to Prohibition. In her home, by Smith Road and Sable Boulevard close to open space, Nimz says she knows of at least 15 homeowners within five blocks that keep chickens in non-agricultural zones.

Arapahoe County said no to backyard chickens in 2011, citing predator and odor concerns.

That’s why Nimz joined Chicks In Aurora. The group petitioned city council to draft the six-hen revision last spring.

“There are legitimate concerns, but the proposal as it’s written now, is very reasonable,” she said.

In advance of the meeting, the Aurora’s Animal Care Division surveyed 24 neighboring municipalities, and found 17 allow hens in residential neighborhoods, while roosters were banned in all of them.

According to the city, the most glaring complaints for neighbors of chicken owners include the chicken’s tendency to wander off properties, their smell, their cackling noise and the predatory wildlife they attract.

The sections of the city that are currently zoned as agricultural include the Kierkegaard Acres subdivision between East 10th and East 14th avenues and from Airport Boulevard east to Telluride Street, the Peterson subdivision between Interstate 70 and East 35th Avenue and from Helena Street to Laredo Street. There are also scattered private properties in the city developed prior to annexation.

The division recommends chickens remain zoned for these spaces. Among the issues they say will arise are diseases like salmonella and hantavirus, and chickens becoming a “throw-away pet” when they no longer lay eggs. The division says it lacks staff and shelters to deal with the additional complaints and that a second animal shelter would need to be built to house stray hens.

Clea Danaan, an Aurora resident and former chicken owner who started Chicks In Aurora, says the city’s worries are unrealistic.

“One of the fears is if we allow chickens, we’re going to allow washing machines on the front porch,” she said.

“They smell, they do make noise, they attract predators, but as a pet owner who has a vested interest in my pets that provide me breakfast, I’m going to take care of them. I’m going to make sure they’re safe, I’m going to make sure their coop is clean.”

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  • A citizen

    Chickens are noisy, smelly animals. How many people have the time and desire to clean chicken coups? Sure at first it is new and novel venture, but with time that feeling goes away. 15 feet is definitely not enough distance for chicken coups to be away from home structures. After awhile owners of dogs no longer want to pick up the poop in their backyards. Are they really going to keep the chicken coups spotless? Chickens are noisy – sometimes worse than dogs. Ever lived with chicken coups 15 ft from your bedroom window on a hot night when you are trying to sleep? The smell is terrible! It is impossible to keep your windows open! I do not want Aurora to allow chickens within the city limits.

    • Joseph

      I have 13 hens and two roosters. My coup is within 15 feet of my house. Right outside my bedroom window as a matter of fact. Now, The roosters do wake us up in the morning (good on most mornings) but the hens are very quiet from that distance. In addition, if cared for they do not stink. Mine don’t! In order to have healthy eggs one needs healthy hens. To have healthy hens one has to have a clean and healthy environment for them to live in. If you couldn’t open your window you either lived next to a huge chicken farm with hundreds to thousands of chickens (which certainly stinks) or the person was neglecting their hens. If the latter is the case then you should report it, just as you would report a neglected dog. Don’t let your opinion of urban chickens be tarnished by one bad chicken owner. Ask around, visit some nice coups and then form an opinion.

  • MBH

    There is a big difference between urban chickens and farm chickens. How many people have the desire to clean up after their pet cats and dogs? Urban chickens are no different.
    I have 2 dogs, and have had dogs my entire adult life. Not tired of picking up poo anymore than a parent would be tired of changing their kid’s diaper. Smell? When I sleep with my windows open I smell the neighbors smoking cigarettes in their back yards..and other things.
    And noisy? The kids playing in the street are noisy, so are the planes flying overhead, the construction going on down the street, the neighbors dog barking at 3 am. It’s part of living in the city. Show me a chicken that is louder than an excited Chihuahua or Poodle..
    Well tended chickens are quiet. Urban coops are different than farm coops, and there would be a limit on how many chickens can be kept. Farm coops house a lot more than what Aurora residents are seeking.
    If you want total peace and quiet, and fresh outdoor air, maybe you should go buy a home in the country….there are a lot of nice subdivisions out there now.
    Also have to address the salmonella issue. Salmonella is present in the digestive system of every reptile and bird. It becomes a problem when chickens are kept in unsanitary conditions….like factory farms where even “free range” chickens are kept by the hundred thousands in a small cramped space.
    And I have to laugh about hantavirus…really? Chickens eat rodents (as well as many nuisance insects). Saying they attract hantavirus is like saying your dog or cat will because you store food for them. The argument is illogical, and a short visit to the CDC web page about it proves how unfounded the concern is.
    And chickens as a throw-away pet..I guess no one throws away pet dogs and cats in shelters. Responsible owners will be just that, no matter what the species.

  • 7Hills mom

    I’m in Seven Hills and I want chickens! As as stay at home mom, with a degree in animal sciences, who homeschools and gardens I am shocked that anyone would have a concern for my ability to care for chickens. Please change this law, Aurora!

  • Christie Clare

    Unless city officials can provide my family with a daily protein source they can ensure was not cruelly raised and completely natural, they can’t deny us our chickens. Perhaps the hundreds of citizens wanting chickens should take our property tax dollars to another city that is not aware of the current state of the food industry.

  • newbieinvestor

    I’ll go testify, if need be. The arguments the council makes have been made before, but if they checked surrounding municipalities, like denver and Boulder, they would have found that their concerns are a non issue! We’re not talking big ag here! Re noise, “clucking sounds”: really? But big dog woofing and small dog yapping is fine? Re dirt and disease: go on the chicken tour I emailed you about — I think they do it every year in denver, and if not, I’ll set one up! Re Predators: As long as they’re protected, as would be required, it’s not going to be any more of an issue than coyotes making off with small dogs now, and they’re not banned. And Denver, etc. have found that having backyard chickens has NOT made more work for them.