It's been 53 years since the city of Denver made the keeping of barnyard animals illegal within the city limits. City movers and shakers were weary of dealing with the city's cow town image. They wanted a vibrant and cosmopolitan city to sell to the nation. No cows allowed. No chickens. No goats.
But that was then. In 2010, Denver enjoys an ever-growing sustainability and urban agriculture movement that is wondering why the city says it is interested in promoting a sustainable environment and strong neighborhoods but won't budge when it comes to food producing animals. One can only obtain a permit as an "exception" to the zoning code, to be considered "upon application and in specific cases".
The truth is, there are hundreds of citizens raising chickens and goats in Denver, with and without permits. There are numerous classes being taught in chicken raising and goat keeping at The Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver Urban Homesteading Center, Heirloom Gardens and elsewhere - and these classes are packed with motivated would-be urban homesteaders - many of whom will not bother to seek a permit and thus risk becoming a part of a growing chicken underground. So why would Denver's new zoning code, due for adoption in April, not provide for any simplification of the permitting process regarding the keeping of food producing animals within the city limits? Even to the experts, the answer is unclear.
According to James Bertini, Denver attorney and owner of Denver Urban Homesteading Center, " In order to be permitted to keep these animals under current ordinances, one must follow a Kafkaesque routine of multiple visits to two city agencies, posting notices in your yard, getting approval from your neighbors, having your property inspected, and paying fees of $150. Consequently, these procedures present a huge barrier to anyone wishing to have, say, a small clutch of chickens for the eggs or a couple of goats for milk."
Bertini, along with John Beauparlant, who teaches chicken raising at the Denver Urban Homesteading Center, have formed an organization called Denver Backyard Farms to work with the city to overcome the complexities of obtaining permission to keep food producing animals in the city. After much effort, Denver Backyard Farms was advised recently that the final draft of the new zoning ordinance would not be changed and that they should seek to amend the ordinance after it is adopted in April. According to Beauparlant, this process could take another year and could meet with some stiff resistance from city council.
In the meantime, the chicken underground is busier than ever.