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.
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.”