City officials are considering changing codes to allow backyard chickens and rabbits

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FARMINGTON — Farmington officials are seeking community input about urban chickens and rabbits, even if local residents may not have strong feelings on the subject.

City officials held a community input meeting about a proposed ordinance change that would allow Farmington residents to keep up to six chickens or rabbits on their property on Monday at the Farmington Civic Center, but no one showed up. A second meeting is planned for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park, 3041 E. Main St.

City Councilor Nate Duckett said the majority of concerns he has heard in regard to the issue have been about noise levels. Duckett said people often complain that neighborhood dogs are already noisy, and adding chickens would just increase the noise.

"It's going to be a tougher decision than many people think," Duckett said.

Currently, Farmington residents are allowed to keep up to four dogs and four cats, as well as other indoor small animals and birds that are commonly kept as household pets. That means the city often considers indoor rabbits to be commonly kept household pets, but a hutch full of outdoor rabbits is not allowed in most parts of the city.

Many people are not aware of the city's rules regarding chickens and rabbits.

"There are quite a few people in this city who have chickens, and nobody complains about it," Duckett said.

When reached by phone today, Bonnie Hopkins, an agriculture agent at New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service in San Juan County, said she did not realize chickens were not permitted in the city.

"A lot of people keep chickens in the city of Farmington," she said.

She said the chickens also are a good learning activity for children, teaching them where food comes from.

"There's just a night-and-day difference in the quality of taste between a fresh egg and a commercially produced egg," she said.

Hopkins said the rabbits kept inside city limits generally are pets, and many are used for 4H projects.

Hopkins cited the name Farmington and said keeping chickens is a way for people to "connect with the legacy" of farming in the city.

"I think it's a great thing for the city of Farmington to consider," she said.

Hopkins said people who keep chickens or rabbits should talk to local small-animal veterinarians about proper care.

Currently, any city resident who wants to keep chickens or rabbits has to apply for a special-use permit, but that process can be expensive. Special-use permits require an $80 application fee to the city for processing. The permits also require that the applicant get a list of people who own property within 100 feet. Those neighbors are able to contest the special-use permit. The applicant receives the owners list from a title company, and title companies typically charge $300 to $400 for that service.

The process of receiving a special-use permit is also time intensive and requires hearings at both the Planning Commission and the Zoning Commission, as well as the City Council. The council has approved several special-use permits in the last year.

Duckett said the council will need to consider what protections need to be in place for the neighborhood environment. He said someone who lives in the city and enjoys being in his or her backyard may be discouraged by the presence of a chicken coop against their fence.

The planning and zoning committee's recommendation would require the presence of a buffer zone between a chicken coop and a neighbor's property.

"It really comes down to neighbors being neighbors," Duckett said.

He said neighbors are not talking to each other enough.

"I think (a special-use permit) allows the neighbors to have a say in whether or not the chickens will fit into their neighborhood," Duckett said.

Duckett said a cookie-cutter approach may not be the best method for the city to implement. He said there may be a "hybrid" solution that would keep the special-use permit process but reduce the expense.

At the same time, the process of evaluating and approving or denying each special-use permit takes time and work for the city.

"Should we be spending a lot of time on chickens when we're facing a budget shortfall? I don't know," Duckett said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

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