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Chicken debate roils Fairbanks Ranch in Rancho Santa Fe

Kelly Emberg holding one of her chickens, seated in front of her chicken coop and screened-in chicken run.
Kelly Emberg holding one of her chickens, seated in front of her chicken coop and screened-in chicken run.

Feathers are flying in Fairbanks Ranch over the issue of whether residents of the exclusive gated community should be allowed to keep chickens as pets and as a source of fresh eggs in their backyards.

On one side are a group of residents including former model Kelly Emberg, who has a home-built coop and screened-in chicken run in her backyard, and on the other are those who are concerned the birds will be noisy, generate odors and attract coyotes.

In late January, the Board of Directors of the Fairbanks Ranch Homeowners Association, which encompasses more than 600 homes, deadlocked 2-2 on a motion to allow chickens with some restrictions. Revisiting the issue at a special meeting on Feb. 4, the board instead decided to stick with an existing general ban on poultry, while agreeing to consider exemptions on a case-by-case basis.

“I think it should be fine,” said Emberg, who has owned her 11 hens for about two years. “I hope that’s the end of it.”

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Kelly Emberg’s chicken coop and run.
Photo by Joe Tash
Kelly Emberg’s chicken coop and run. Photo by Joe Tash

The issue generated strong passions on both sides. Jerry McDonald, general manager of the Fairbanks Ranch Association, said there is a large group of residents on each side of the issue. At the January meeting, as many as 100 people turned out, about four or five times the attendance of a typical meeting,

Emberg circulated a petition in favor of allowing chickens which drew more than 100 signatures. Another resident sent out a letter to her neighbors, warning of consequences, such as loose chickens in the community, and the potential of opening the door to more intrusive livestock such as pigmy goats or pot-bellied pigs.

Resident Gary Eastham, who has lived in Fairbanks for 15 years, said he is opposed to any rule change allowing chickens because, in the past, the homeowners association has not had a good record of dealing with problems caused by animals, such as barking or loose dogs.

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“I have no confidence that if there was a problem with the chickens, the smell, or they got out, I’m not confident it would be resolved,” Eastham said.

“It doesn’t seem very well thought-out,” Eastham said, “We have a proven history of dealing inadequately with issues between animals and residents.”

But Emberg said her birds don’t bother anyone, including her direct neighbors. She doesn’t keep roosters, which are much noisier than hens, and she maintains her coop properly so there is no smell. She said coyotes already live in the area, feeding on a variety of plants and small animals, and that chickens would not result in more coyotes in Fairbanks.

Emberg, who posed during her career for the covers of such magazines as Glamour, Cosmopolitan and Sports Illustrated, has in recent years taken up gardening in a big way, and even launched a web site, called “The Model Gardener,” and hosted an internet radio show of the same name. Keeping chickens is an extension of her desire to grow fresh food for her family. She also loves the birds as companion animals.

Emberg and her husband, attorney Mike Padilla, own a property with about 3.7 acres. Most of the homes in Fairbanks are on lots of one to three acres.

“If we buy a property in an area where nature is all around us, why can’t we keep a few chickens?” she said. “If it doesn’t bother my neighbors, why would it be an issue?”

During the summer, at the height of laying season, her hens produce between six and eight eggs each day, she said. Her home-grown eggs taste better and are healthier than those sold in stores, she said.

More and more people are opting to grow their own food, she said, which is evidenced by such trends as a move by Williams-Sonoma, a retailer of upscale kitchenware, to offer chicken coops for sale on its web site.

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“Mary’s Tack & Feed (a venerable Del Mar equestrian and pet supply store) has a chicken section now. There’s a reason for that,” Emberg said.

Emberg said she is aware of at least a few other Fairbanks residents who have chickens on their property. Based on the HOA board’s decision at its February meeting, those who want to keep chickens will have to get approval from the board. For her part, Emberg said she will submit a requested plot plan that shows how far her chicken coop stands from neighboring properties.

And she has no plans to expand her menagerie.

“I’m not going to get a cow or a pigmy goat or a pot-bellied pig. It’s not on my list,” she said.


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