Don’t count your chickens yet: Mancos delays a decision on a proposed livestock ordinance

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They came. They spoke. They prevailed.

“They” are Mancos residents who opposed proposed ordinances 710 and 709, regarding raising livestock within town limits and structures for those animals (respectively).

In February, Planning and Zoning met to finalize an ordinance to put before the Mancos Town Board at the meeting on March 9. The proposal addressed what livestock would be allowed to live within town limits, how many of those permissible animals, what types of structures would be not only accepted but perhaps necessary, and the setback rules for those structures.

P&Z’s proposed ordinances would allow for hens and quail (12) and rabbits (eight), and setbacks for “housing” structures on in-town lots would follow the same guidelines as the land-use code for accessory buildings.

Those lots labeled AR (agricultural residential) would have slightly different regulations, freeing up the owners of those few lots to have a wider variety of live animals, yet bigger setbacks for the necessary structures.

The March 9 meeting was open to public comment, and comment they did. But before residents spoke, Town Administrator Andrea Phillips presented a brief history of the issue before the board.

A year ago, the town codes said nothing about livestock, only dogs. With more people wanting to raise chickens, rabbits, and even cows in town, a need for some sort of regulation was felt by many to be necessary. Bottom line, with the increase in critters came an increase in neighborly complaints to Town Hall.

The town randomly sent out a written survey to residents and compiled the results. The majority, but not all, of the respondents said that they were OK with chickens, quail, rabbits, aquaculture, and bees. Just a few residents felt that larger animals should be permitted as well.

Along with allowable numbers of animals, P&Z’s proposal included a requirement for manure management and odor control and raised the question of grandfathering existing structures. At one point, the grandfather clause was also considered to include existing livestock, but that has been nixed. Phillips wanted to clarify that not all of the suggestions in the proposal were unanimous.

In attendance at the March 9 meeting were town board trustees Todd Kearns, Matthew Baskin, Lorraine Baker, Michele Black, Queenie Barz, and Will Stone (Barz and Stone are both running for mayor) and current Mayor Rachel Simbeck. The audience section was full but not overflowing because the upcoming meeting on March 23 was the one that was actually promoted as the meeting open to public comment.

After the approval of last month’s minutes, an announcement was made regarding the VFW annual Easter egg hunt. Will Stone, whose 55 chickens are at the heart of the livestock code debate, offered to donate the eggs for the hunt. All other agenda items were moved to the second meeting of the month in order to allow enough time to address the livestock ordinances. And so began the comment period. Each speaker was allowed three minutes and only those living in closest proximity to the cows and chickens seemed to be in favor of passing the ordinances as they stood.

Barbara Zeutzius, who had spoken at the recent Planning and Zoning meeting in favor of rabbits, stated that her sense of the P&Z meeting was that “everyone just wanted to go home.” Several others expressed this sentiment as the evening wore on.

Celeste Aurorean of the Backyard Animal Committee, which submitted a proposal to P&Z before the last meeting, said, “There are too many rules. If there’s no way to enforce the rules, we shouldn’t make them. If we only enforce some of the ordinance, then we will be targeting people.”

Then she brought up that Colorado is a “fence-out” state and declared, “If I have to fence out my neighbor’s cattle, I should be allowed to have 25 chickens on my side of that fence.”

Her final statement was an acknowledgement of the process and request for further efforts before passing the ordinances. “I know that people want to get this over with, but we need to take the time to do this well.”

Kevin Keith, town resident and goat owner, raised the point, “Our questions shouldn’t be differentiating between livestock and other pets. We should be asking what animals make good neighbors. Not roosters, not male goats. But 1000 U.S. citizens per day require ER treatment for dog bites mostly from pit bulls and rottweilers. There’s nothing about that in the ordinances. How often do you hear about goat attacks?”

Many members of the audience took sides depending on their experience with livestock in town. Those residing near roosters or the cows in question wanted the ordinances passed that night and enforced immediately. Several others wanted to protect personal liberties, unconditionally.

Among these folks were those who had moved to Mancos because of the freedoms that have historically been a part of the community – like riding horses through town and raising chickens in your backyard.

Maddie Williams, who lives on Grand Avenue and does not currently have any livestock, declared, “I ran into two women on horseback on my way home from the library today. That’s why I came to this town and how I would like it to stay. Apparently some people moved here with the intent to clean up and change things – like some of us do with our spouses. I thought I could escape gentrification here.”

Rayne Grant, who has both chickens and roosters on her property on Bauer Avenue, advocated for roosters, stating that they help keep flocks healthy and protect the hens. She then offered a solution for the noise problem, a “No-Crow Rooster Collar” is purportedly harmless to roosters, but greatly reduces both the volume and frequency of their trumpeting. She suggested the town make these koozie-like apparatuses a requirement for raising roosters.

After all 14 audience members had had their opportunity to speak, Mayor Simbeck transitioned to the trustees’ discussion segment.

Barz said, “I think we need to do more research on this. I agree that the P&Z meetings were a joke.”

Barz questioned the practicality of the setback portion of the ordinances. Many town residents have existing structures on their property and those structures are right on their property lines. The ordinance, as proposed, would require all of those structures to be moved and Barz believes that many of the affected members of the community would not have the means to move them.

One sentiment repeatedly expressed throughout the evening was, “Keep Mancos the way that it is.” But when trustee Black had her turn, she was quick to point out that these are new issues – at least the cows are – and that the question shouldn’t be viewed as “keeping what is, but keeping up with the changes.”

Another key point brought up both by community members and trustees is enforcement of the ordinances – whatever they might be. Tim Hunter, longtime Mancos Valley resident but new to living within town limits, is a proponent of protecting personal liberties and not creating stricter regulations about what people can do on their own property. He suggested enforcing the noise and sanitation rules already on the books. Many question the ability to enforce any rules regarding odor.

Much of the conversation returned to Stone’s three cows and 55 chickens and roosters. Simbeck tried valiantly to steer the conversations away from the personal and to talk, instead, of issues “town-wide.”

Stone recused himself from the trustees’ discussion, then angrily protested the “personal attacks,” and left the meeting.

Trustee Baskin noted, “People are complaining about the worst offender. Only when it becomes a problem do we have these discussions.” He continued, “I am really surprised at how this conversation has shifted; we went from how to make it work for the neighbors to have a cow to just NO COW.”

Many of the attendees were in agreement with this perspective, which lent one more argument for not passing anything just yet.

This seemed to be the direction toward which the trustees were moving – to not make any major decisions that night and take more time to craft an ordinance better suited to the Mancos community.

Because this has become such an emotional issue, most were in agreement that no matter what is decided, some residents will be unhappy.

Simbeck attempted to get the board to agree on some points within the ordinances, but even small steps seemed impossible.

Trustee Todd Kearns commented, “I just wish that people could be good neighbors. Why can’t we work these things out over the fence? But that seems impossible without ordinances of some sort and it is our responsibility as trustees of the town to do something about this.”

Then he addressed the argument that many have used in support of allowing livestock in town – that the town motto is “Mancos, where the West still lives.”

“That’s great,” said Kearns, “but it’s not typical anywhere for ranchers to keep their cow in the foyer. We’re talking about responsible animal husbandry and how they (livestock) affect your neighbors.”

The discussion continued for another 45 minutes, much of it reiterations of what had already been said. The general consensus was that no one was willing to vote on any of it yet.

The decision was to take the issue off the meeting agenda on March 23 and make it a key item for the next, and for many trustees not running for re-election, their last board workshop in hopes of devising a plan that will work, if not for everybody, at least for the majority of the impacted residents.

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