Basalt becomes a chicken town
Chickens went from unwanted fowl to fine feathered friends in Basalt over the last six months.
In August, the Town Council was prepared to ban the keeping of any new chickens while grandfathering in existing fowl. But by October the council had a change of heart. The board completed its 360-degree reversal Feb. 14 with a 6-0 vote to allow the keeping of chickens despite a recommendation by the Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission to stay the course with a prohibition.
Back in August, the council took up the issue when Sopris Drive resident Jen “Hen” Riffle sought a stay of execution from an administrative decision that she had to get rid of a coop in her backyard. The town code enforcement officer rejected her request to build the coop. She constructed it anyway.
The council voted 3-2 to let her keep her seven hens in an experiment that would be reviewed after one year. If there were any complaints by neighbors or if predators were attracted to the hen house, she was to be ordered to get rid of them, according to terms of the town approval.
The town was going to try to prevent any additional homeowners from establishing coops during the one-year experiment, though it was never clear how the ban would be enforced.
That never proved to be an issue. The council majority changed gears and directed the staff in October to draft a code amendment allowing the keeping of chickens. The council granted the first of two approvals to the code amendment on Jan. 24. The final approval was granted Feb. 14.
A staff memo prepared for the February meeting indicated the issue is tough because keeping fowl dovetails with some of Basalt’s policies and goes against others.
“The keeping of chickens for individuals and families to grow their own food appears to be an environmentally sustainable practice, but the report from Wildlife Biologist/Ecologist Jonathan Lowsky indicates that the keeping of chickens and other fowl will draw additional predator animals into the neighborhoods where the chickens are being kept,” James Lindt, assistant planning director, wrote in a memo to the council.
The council favored allowing the keeping of chickens as long as chicken coops or other enclosures were constructed to sufficient standards and that the potential to be a nuisance to neighbors was minimized.
The code amendment that was approved allows homeowners to keep up to six chickens; establishes that a coop must be set back at least 20 feet from a neighboring living space; and allows electrical fencing with a maximum of 2,000 volts to discourage predators.
Planning commission members were concerned that the requirement for an electric fence “could have unintended consequences for children and domestic pets,” the staff memo said.
Riffle urged the council to approve the keeping of chickens. She told the board she hasn’t had problems with predators and her hens are providing two to four eggs per day. She volunteered to offer her services as a “poultry ombudswoman” to anyone in Basalt trying to establish a coop.
Riffle broke in a jig she called “the chicken dance” when the board approved the keeping of fowl.
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