Oooh, that smell!: A proposed livestock ordinance prompts lively debate in Mancos

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It began with a rooster, two roosters to be exact, in two different neighborhoods within the small metropolis of downtown Mancos. Neighbors complained, owners refused to get rid of their birds, and the discord eventually ended up at Town Hall.

Several years later, the problem now includes multiple roosters, large flocks of free-range chickens, three cows, countless flies and piles of manure. Now, a draft ordinance addressing the concerns is awaiting consideration by the Town Board.

After several meetings open to public comment, P&Z held a special meeting on Feb. 23 to finalize a livestock ordinance to present to the Town Board at its next meeting.

In attendance were chairperson Cindy Simpson, committee members Regina Roberts, Jennifer Guy, and John Bolton, Town Manager Andrea Philips, Town Clerk Georgette Welage, and eight members of the community.

As this was a special meeting, it was open to only limited public comment. When the draft ordinance goes before the town board, that meeting will be open to more input from the community.

The debate involved whether town residents should be allowed to keep livestock on their property. Livestock, by definition, includes rabbits, hens, roosters, ducks, geese, turkeys, goats, sheep, cows, horses, pigs, bees, water buffalo, and fish (not goldfish, but fish in ponds).

Many people in Mancos believe, because this is a rural community, that livestock is a part of who they are; and also that people in the West shouldn’t be told what they can and cannot do.

And therein lies the rub: Should the town make and enforce regulations about, say, a cow?

At the epicenter of the debate is Will Stone, long-time resident, town-board member and current mayoral candidate.

When the rooster wars began, Stone brought a cow to live on his rental property on Main Street. That single cow has led to two more, as well as 55 chickens.

Many of his neighbors, including officials with the next-door Catholic Church, have complained about the mess, the smell, the “droppings,” and stray chickens wandering into their own yards up to four blocks away. Stone’s yard is also criticized as unsightly, and some view it as so small for the number of animals he has that it borders on cruelty.

But while Stone has the greatest number of livestock, he is not the only person in town facing changes if the ordinance goes through. Many residences are home to chickens, rabbits, and roosters.

During public comment at the Feb. 23 meeting, Carrie Baikie of Colorado Ranch and Home Realty conveyed some of what she hears from folks looking to buy or sell their homes in Mancos.

She began by addressing the most practical issue: “Not everyone likes to walk on sidewalks with poop. It can’t be on the sidewalks. We’re a country town, it needs to be in the streets.”

However, she continued, “This is not about a horse, it’s about what is our vision for Mancos. Where the West still lives. Yes, livestock in town can cause problems, but to say only cats and dogs and no chickens…people come here because it is a rural town and people don’t want to be told what they can’t do.”

James Looman, who lives one block behind Stone’s home, had concerns about odor. “I just filed another complaint today,” he said. “With the melting snow and warm weather, the smell makes it impossible to sit outside. And we can’t get the chickens out of our garage.”

A reminder that Colorado is a “fenceout” state was given.

His wife, Helen, commented, “I grew up in a rural community, Fraser. If I wanted to remain on a ranch, I would have. Yes, we are a rural community, but we are a town first.”

The last speaker was Barbara Zeutzius, who keeps rabbits at her home on the north side of the highway. “You want us to have a huge piece of property for something as small as rabbits? I’ve always had rabbits, for more than 30 years, and now I won’t be able to have them.”

This led into the first item on the ordinance agenda – what animals are and are not allowed within town limits. In previous discussions, the committee had agreed upon hens and rabbits only. No roosters, cows, horses, sheep and other large livestock, or fish. (The fish decision was based not upon smell, but upon water usage.) It has also been decided that existing animals that are not in compliance with the new ordinances will not be grandfathered in. There will be a 90-day sunset clause allowing owners time to relocate their creatures.

At first, the committee considered the provision that if a resident wanted to have animals on their property, all neighbors within 200 yards had to give approval.

Stone, in a later conversation, said, “Who’s going to talk to all of their neighbors, if they can even find them?”

This provision was dismissed.

P&Z also considered setbacks for containment structures: barns, coops, hutches. Originally the suggestion had been that they be at least 30 feet from a property line, but the allowance of only hens and rabbits, which need much smaller housing, combined with the narrowness of many town lots, led the committee to settle on 10-foot setbacks instead.

This seemed agreeable to those in attendance.

The committee swiftly came to consensus on fencing regulations. Roberts pointed out, “Most fences are on property lines and if dogs are allowed to roam up to those lines, then chickens should also be allowed to.”

But a fence must comply with existing town requirements for all fences and be able to contain the animals in question.

There are three large lots north of the highway, behind the Valley Inn, that are zoned Agricultural Residential (AR). What the ordinances should say about these specific lots prompted lengthy discussion. Eventually it was determined that the owners of those specific lots would be allowed to have a variety of livestock without applying for a permit, but that their structure setbacks would be 30 feet from the property line, since the lots are bigger, as would be a barn for a horse.

The real meat of the meeting came with deciding upon limits to numbers of hens and rabbits.

Roberts pointed out that children wishing to participate in 4-H were required to have one buck and three does. “Setting limits on that will restrict children in town from participating in 4-H. And they are the least nuisance of all of the animals that we are talking about.”

Simpson responded, “I’m not hung up on the 4-H thing – I’m hung up on the impacts to neighbors. If a kid wants to have a hundred rabbits for 4-H, then they can find another place to do it. Or the kid can get a kennel license.”

The number of rabbits settled upon was four, thus allowing young town residents to enter rabbits in 4-H.

How many chickens will be allowed? Twelve was the consensus – bad news for Stone’s other 43.

Next up…commercial enterprises. Having more than three dogs in town requires a permit to run a kennel. So what about chickens being raised to sell their eggs?

Roberts declared, “I run a business out of my home [making handcrafted wooden bows and arrows]. If I sell even one bow a year, I have to pay $25 for a business license. What if I sell a dozen eggs. . . every other week?”

Roberts then wanted to talk about comments that she had received via social media when she posted a notice about the meeting on her Facebook page.

Simpson said no, adding, “If those people were interested in being heard, they should have come to this meeting tonight.”

Roberts pushed back. “I am actually going to insist on sharing these comments. We allow people to call in to the town so they should also be allowed to comment on Facebook.”

But Simpson said, “I am the chair and I will not allow it. We will get a sanction by the town as to how to handle this situation before the next board meeting.”

Roberts said, “The next time I am in a board meeting and I hear someone say, ‘I’ve heard around town,’ I am going to fight for that to not be allowed.”

Bolton diplomatically pointed out, “Gina, your vote in the matters at hand will represent the comments that we are discussing.”

Eventually the committee was able to move on.

One last issue — whether residents should be allowed to butcher and process large animals on their property — got a unanimous yes vote.

A decision was also made that boa constrictors, zebras, and other exotics will not be permitted within the town limits.

The draft ordinance resulting from the meeting still needs to be presented to the town board. There will be another meeting that will be open to public comment, though the date had not been set as of press time.

Stone later told the Free Press, “These regulations are messing with people’s rights to be self-sustaining. I get gallons of milk and up to 27 eggs a day from my livestock. I have been tracking my chickens, and they stay on my lot. For the most part.”

He continued, “My grandmother raised everything. We as a society have gotten so far from that. We have the opportunity to create a state-of-the-art ordinance that other towns will want to copy.”

Stone added, “I hope that I get elected — I will turn this on its ass.”

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