Current Permitting Process


Channel 7, June 4, 2010   Denver Daily News, June 3, 2010   Face The State, June 3, 2010

The Atlantic Monthly, The Future of the City, May 21, 2010

Westword, March 6, 2009  Westword, May 12,2009 Westword, April 29, 2009

This website was created to campaign to change the chicken law in Denver.  The campaign succeeded and the law was changed in June

2011 to allow chickens and goats  For details on the current law click here:



Current Permitting Process
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The permit process for keeping animals other than dogs and cats in Denver

The process for legally owning chickens and other livestock in the City of Denver involves getting permits from Animal Care and Control and from Zoning.  Each department levies application fees, annual fees and Animal Control will perform an annual inspection.  The application must be renewed annually from both departments, which gives them the authority to deny a renewal.

The place to get started is at Animal Care and Control.  On their portion of the City website they list the requirements.

Among the information that must be supplied to Animal Control is the name and contact information of the veterinarian.  I imagine that an applicant would have a difficult time finding a Denver vet who would agree to treat a sick chicken.  But if the information is not provided, it seems that the application could be denied.  (It also seems incongruent for the City of Denver to require a citizen to prove he has a vet lined up before getting a chicken but not before getting an Irish wolfhound.)   This information can be mailed, but delivering it in person may speed up the process.  Later, if and when Zoning approves the application, the applicant must go to Animal Control to pay the fee and pick up the livestock permit.

Animal Control charges a $50 for the permit, and $50 annually.  The applicant must prove that the chicken coop “will be maintained in a sanitary condition, free from insects and rodents, offensive odors, excessive noise, or any other conditions which constitute a public nuisance.”[1]  Otherwise, there are no construction standards for the coop, making it unknown whether or not the applicant’s idea of an appropriate chicken coop will match that of a Denver animal control officer who deals with dogs and cats and likely has no experience or training in chickens and coops.  Moreover, it subjects the Animal Control officer to decision-making that may be outside of his or her comfort zone.  An inspector from Animal Control inspects the proposed facilities before issuing the permit and they inspect annually.  I estimate the time involved in meeting all Animal Control requirements to be 5 hours if vet is identified quickly, which may be impossible.  This does not include the time to create the coop.

If Animal Control approves the application they issue a pre-approval letter which the applicant takes to…

Zoning.  At Zoning the process gets even more cumbersome and more expensive.[2]  The process is an “administrative review” which means that Zoning will notify the appropriate NGO and councilmember.  The applicant will be given a sign that must be placed on his or her property informing the public of the application for the first ten days of a 30-day complaint period.  It is also recommended (required?) to get consent letters from immediate neighbors.  If there are no complaints during the 30-day period, the applicant must return to Zoning to get his/her approval of the application and a second sign to be posted for 15 days.  This sign informs the public how to appeal the approval.  The process will be complete after 45 days or more.   This will require 2 trips to Zoning: one to apply and pick up the first sign and one to pick up the approval and the second sign.  I estimate the time required in meeting Zoning requirements to be 8 hours unless there is a snag in the process.

The application fee is $100 and the annual renewal fee is $20.  The Zoning Department can deny or revoke a permit or a renewal application, apparently if someone complains and they have wide jurisdiction – sometimes overlapping with Animal Control- to review and approve applications.[3]  Since Animal Control must issue a renewal permit each year, then that means they, too, have the power to say no.  The danger for the chicken owner is that upon renewal if there is a new neighbor who doesn’t like the chicken owner or the chickens the neighbor could complain and Zoning could deny the renewal application.  Also, one applicant told me that Animal Control’s policy is that once a permitted chicken dies, the owner cannot simply replace the chicken, rather, he must begin the application process anew.  Another applicant told me he contacted Zoning last year and was told that he could only keep chickens in an industrial zone.   He lives in a residential zone.  (So he became a chicken outlaw and he is living quietly with some hens in his backyard; all the neighborhood kids love to visit and play with his chickens.)

And then there is the possibility that the applicant would have to get a building permit.  However, I do not know the requirements for getting such a permit at this time.


Total estimated time to get permit assuming a reasonable ten days from Animal Control and a few extra days in between: 60 days

Time expended in getting an approval: 13 hours, which includes 1 letter and 1 trip to Animal Control, a meeting with Animal Control at your property, 3 trips to Zoning, posting signs on your property, getting letters of support from your neighbors.

Total application fees: $150

Total annual fees: $70

Not surprisingly, the rules are sufficiently complex and expensive that they provide a significant disincentive to obtaining a permit.   From a financial perspective, it is far cheaper for a potential chicken owner to drive to the supermarket and purchase eggs that were trucked to the store, rather than to produce eggs in the backyard.   (Of course, this assessment does not take into consideration the cost to the environment or to the metro region’s air or traffic congestion.)   I spoke to two animal control staff on February 17, 2009 and the answer to my question about how many such permits have been granted was, “a handful,” and “just a few.”  (The Zoning Department does not compile a list of applicants for such permits as their records are by address; I have requested a list of applicants from Animal Control via the Colorado Open Records Act.)  Consequently, this leads some Denver residents into becoming chicken outlaws, an observation I confirmed by internet research into the growing underground chicken movement in Denver. 


1Sec. 8-92.  Nuisance-free facilities prerequisite to granting.

A permit to keep livestock or fowl within the city shall not be granted unless the owner or possessor provides facilities which will reasonably assure the manager that the premises will be maintained in a sanitary condition, free from insects and rodents, offensive odors, excessive noise, or any other conditions which constitute a public nuisance.

2 What kind of livestock are permitted?  The law contains no limits, but at least some of the animals contemplated are mentioned in the Zoning Ordinance:
Sec. 8-91.  Livestock or fowl permit required.

It shall be unlawful for any person to keep, maintain, possess or harbor on any property within the city any livestock or fowl such as, but not limited to, horses, mules, donkeys, burros, cattle, sheep, goats, swine, chickens, geese, ducks or turkeys, unless a livestock or fowl permit therefor has been issued by the manager. Such permit is required to be renewed annually for a fee of fifty dollars ($50.00) for each application.

3 Sec 59-38(a)(12)e.   Keeping of animals  . In addition to the animals permitted by the zoning administrator, the zoning administrator may authorize, upon application in specific cases, subject to terms and conditions fixed by the board and pursuant to the conditions hereinafter set forth, an exception permitting the keeping of animals in connection with the operation of a single unit dwelling or a dwelling unit in a multiple unit dwelling. Such exception shall be personal to the applicant therefor. Notwithstanding other provisions of chapter 59, which limit the number of animals, the breeding of animals may be permitted. 

1.   The application shall be filed in the name of the land owner.

2.   The owner/tenant seeking the exception must occupy the subject property as his/her primary residence;

3.   The animal shall be kept solely as a pet; a hobby; for educational, research, rehabilitation or propagation purposes; or for the production of food products for personal consumption by the resident;

4.   The application shall contain provisions which ensure that the exception will not substantially or permanently injure the appropriate use of adjacent conforming property. In determining that this condition will be met, the zoning administrator shall consider the following factors:

i.   The type of animal to be kept;

ii.   The number to be kept;

iii.   The maximum size of the animal;

iv.   The space or area in which the animal is to be kept and whether or not other animals may occupy that same space;

v.   The methods by which any sanitation problems will be controlled;

vi.   The methods by which abutting residents will be protected from any nuisance; and

vii.   The applicant's intent to allow reproduction.

5.   The applicant shall have written approval from the department of environmental health;

6.   The applicant shall have written approval from the division of wildlife, Colorado Department of Natural Resources, if applicable, for species of animals considered to be wildlife;

7.   The applicant shall have notified abutting owners about the proposed animal and shall have requested letters of support or petitions of consent from such owners. If any of said owners fail to consent, the zoning administrator shall consider the circumstances, including any letters or petitions of opposition. Further, the zoning administrator shall give serious consideration to any letter from a physician stating that a resident living nearby is allergic to some feature of the proposed animal and may have a serious reaction if exposed to such animal.

8.   Any structure erected for the shelter of such animal shall comply with all regulations for the zone district in which such property is located. If a variance is required for any such structure, an application for a variance must be made to the board of adjustments. Any such structure shall be maintained in accordance with the building and housing codes and shall be subject to inspection by the building inspection division and the department of environmental health.

9.   An approved exception for an animal shall not be valid until the applicant has executed an agreement listing the terms and conditions fixed by the zoning administrator and the applicable conditions set forth above. Such agreement shall be recorded with the clerk and recorder. The permit for an approved exception shall expire at such time as the applicant no longer resides at the property, or discontinues the keeping of subject animal.

10.   Upon receipt of a complaint from an abutting property owner, the department of zoning administration shall investigate. If any deviations from the conditions listed in the agreement exist, an order may be issued terminating the exception. The order may then be appealed to the board of adjustments for review.


No room in the coop for Denver's backyard chicken champion

Urban-farming pioneer says City Hall schemed to keep him out of process for crafting new law

January 20, 2011

By Jared Jacang Maher, Face The State

 When it comes to clucking at politicians and bureaucrats to make it easier for Denver residents to raise their own chickens, no one has clucked louder than James Bertini. But now that the Denver mayor’s office has created an official group to pursue ways to enhance urban farming and agriculture, Bertini says city employees are complicit in a scheme to keep him out of the hen house—and he has documents to back up his assertions.

As the owner of Denver Urban Homesteading—an indoor farmers market that also hosts classes on urban agriculture—Bertini was

frustrated by the slow pace of movement within the city on changing health and zoning regulations to allow the keeping of chickens and

goats. So he helped launch a very public campaign on the topic and, late last year, announced his intent to put an initiative on the municipal

ballot in May asking voters to choose whether people should be allowed to have 6 chickens without a permit in Denver.


Then he was contacted by City Council President Chris Nevitt, who urged Bertini to postpone his initiative efforts. A special committee had

been set up through the mayors office called the Sustainable Food Policy Council to address chickens and other urban-farming issues

through a possible ordinance that would go before the council.  "It was the first time I ever heard about this council," says Bertini, a

retired attorney. "I started asking questions about it, and no one would give me a straight answer."

 Through open-records requests Bertini learned that the council, formed last fall, included multiple local farmers, market organizations and community garden groups. Many of these same groups were also included as partners in an application that the city has submitted to the USDA for a $2 million grant called the "Food Abundance Initiative."

 All of this was news to Bertini and his partner in the campaign, John Beauparlant. Many of the proposed programs described in the grant application—such as setting up farmers markets in under-served "food desert" neighborhoods, and accepting food stamps—are already being done at Bertini's 8,000-squarefoot industrial/commercial facility off Santa Fe Drive. (Face the State knows because we rent office space from Bertini and literally see it in our own backyard.)

 Among the documents Bertini received through the open-records request was a Dec. 17 e-mail sent by Sundari Kraft, a co-chair on the Sustainable Food Policy Council, to Katherine Cornwell, Denver's Healthy Eating Active Living program manager, discussing Bertini's possible ballot initiative.

 In it Kraft explains why they have not been more public about the official group: "We have been keeping everything really on the down-low, and I'm not totally sure why. I think it mostly has to do with keeping the process away from James and John, because if they knew we were working on an ordinance behind their back they would want to be a part of the process, which we *didn't* want. I guess our hope was just that we'd get the ordinance ready to go and present it to council, and by then it would be too late for them to interfere. (Obviously, that worked out really well.)"

 Bertini thinks this shows there has been a concerted effort within the city to shut him out of the public process.  

When asked about the e-mail, Kraft explains that the "process" she was referring to was a sub-committee that is focusing on crafting a proposed ordinance having to do with food-producing animals (i.e. urban chickens.)  "The intention always was (and still is) that as the (food-producing animal) ordinance moves forward it, would be subject to a very public process, with lots of opportunities for public comment," writes Kraft in an e-mail to Face the State. "However, these initial meetings were just to get the ball rolling, and the small group discussing it consisted of people who either work for the city or are currently operating within the city regulations regarding FPAs."

As for the formation of the Sustainable Food Policy Council and $2 million grant application, Kraft refers questions to Cornwell, who works within Denver's Department of Environmental Health.   "There was not an active effort to keep anyone out of the selection process," says Cornwell. "There were so many names to consider for the Sustainable Food Policy Council and ultimately I made the decision about who best fit the criteria for each of their seats."

But Bertini doesn't buy it. He says no one ever told him that this council existed despite months of direct communications with many of the players he now knows are involved.  "I'm surprised and disappointed that my government would try to keep citizens who are actively trying to make the city more sustainable from knowing they are having official meetings about it," he says.

 Other than that, he completely supports the official group's efforts. "Now that I know about it, it all looks like really great stuff."

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Last updated: 01/19/12.