For 10 months, a chicken war has been brewing in Stapleton Home Owner’s Association No. 7, resulting in the ban of farmyard animals from all outdoor areas in the 118-home association. After consulting real estate agents and neighbors, the HOA board voted 4:1 for the ban.
“I feel good about the decision. We acted in the best interest of the association,” HOA Board President Jerry Dowdy said.
The board acted upon complaints from other residents regarding resident Caroline Vierow and her two chickens and rabbit, which she often brought to a shared courtyard. She also owned roosters at one point, but was cited by the city.
Dowdy supports urban farming and sustainability when it makes sense for the home, like the new Conservatory Green homes that have more outdoor space and offer a garden box or chicken coop. But Vierow lives in a Green Court home that has five to seven feet on either side—too close to neighbors to have farmyard animals outside, according to Dowdy. Three renters and five homeowners share the courtyard.
“Their kids run around with the animals and chase them, and the neighbors don’t think it’s appropriate,” Dowdy says.
The ban is a sacrifice necessary for living in a covenant-controlled community, according to Dowdy. “The majority gets to make the rules, and it’s unfortunate if you’re in the minority, but the board has the responsibility to the entire association, not to the one homeowner.”
Denver’s city ordinance allows for up to eight chickens or ducks and two dwarf goats in residential areas, but there is no restriction on bringing the animals outside. An HOA board can make stricter rules within the ordinance. If the HOA declaration already does not allow or does not address farm animals, the board has the authority to regulate them, according to State Representative Angela Williams who worked on state-level legislation to license HOA managers.
“Frankly, it’s not typical to see declarations that permit most types of farm animals in suburban HOAs,” she says. She advises only adopting a potentially controversial rule if there are complaints.
Neighbors say the chickens and “dog-sized” rabbit attract predators, lower home values and impact marketability. All five homeowners on the courtyard told the HOA they do not want the animals outside.
Vierow argues the animals add to the sustainable life advertised in Stapleton. She says the chickens are quiet, provide organic food and their poop fertilizes the grass. When she first bought her chickens in December, she asked neighbors if they were okay with the animals, and they said no. She bought the chickens anyway. An urban farming advocate, she offered to give the neighbors eggs and tours of chicken coops, but they weren’t interested. In April, she submitted a chicken coop design to the HOA, and it was denied. “I don’t understand this area of Stapleton I’m living in.”
Vierow says she could accept not having a coop, but it’s insane to prohibit letting her pet rabbit out on her own property. She calls dogs a bigger nuisance.
“Would most people have a problem with a rabbit being outside? Probably not,” Dowdy says. “But where does it stop? They’ve also talked about getting a pig. If it’s considered a farm animal, then it’s covered by our guidelines.” However, Williams advises keeping the restriction as narrow as possible and only regulating what is currently a problem in the neighborhood.
Prior to the chickens, Vierow has had prior problems with her neighbors and the HOA. She says they have always had bad communication.
“The Vierows are passionate about their cause; you’ve got to give them that,” Dowdy says, pointing out that Stapleton needs passionate people like them. “We value their opinion as a homeowner in Stapleton, but unfortunately, they’re in the minority.”
This issue is not over, according to Vierow. She plans to start door-to-door polling to build support. If there is an overwhelming support, the HOA will readdress the issue.