A-fowl of the cityPublished 10:24pm Tuesday, December 10, 2013
With raised vegetable beds and solar panels, the French residence in Katherine Street seems an apt setting to also find a few hens scratching about.
Indeed, up until recently, chickens did have a home in the backyard.
About the beginning of August, Delise French said she declared to husband Aric, “Today’s the day we’re going to get a chicken.”
They looked at breeds online and contacted a breeder. “We wanted a pastel kind of brown” egg color, she said.
They settled on Ameraucana. As the name would suggest, the breed was developed in the United States. Delise French says the eggs were “a beautiful brownish-green.”
With their 8-year-old son enjoying the experience, chickens grew on the French family. Within two months, they had another Ameraucana, two white Sussexes and one Cochin.
“They weren’t all egg-producing,” Delise French said. “Only one. The other three were too young.
“We enjoyed them. We enjoyed watching them; we enjoyed how much they mimicked human behavior. Their conversations with each other — usually it’s about a worm.”
Aric French said he most appreciated the positive effect they had on the environment in their backyard. For the first time, he was able to stop using pesticides for bugs. The earth was always well aerated, and the hens were also natural weeding machines.
“It just seemed like a natural part of the setting,” Aric French said.
About the beginning of October, however, the French family’s chicken idyll took a turn for the worse.
“One of our neighbors is an older lady who did not want chickens in the neighborhood,” Delise French said.
The neighbor reported the chickens to the city, and the city consequently asked the Frenches to get rid of their chickens. The fowls are now living with a family over the North Carolina line; the father is a work colleague of Aric French’s who had expressed interest in the chickens.
“It was awful,” said Delise French. “It was like trying to get rid of a child, or a dog or a cat.”
Now, the ex-chicken owners have collected 50 signatures from their neighborhood as a first step in trying to get the city of Suffolk to join the other South Hampton Roads cities of Portsmouth, Norfolk and Chesapeake in allowing residents to conditionally keep a limited number of hens.
Delise French put her case to local leaders when she addressed last week’s City Council meeting but says she hasn’t heard anything back.
“I think I need someone from the city to bring it to the table,” she said.
Aric French said they didn’t set out to flout the city’s rules. He pointed to the wording of a section in the municipal code, which states in part: “No person shall erect any … commercial poultry house … within 500 feet of any residence or business establishment other than his own.”
“Somebody (from the city) came to our door,” Aric French said. “It was a big shock.”
City spokeswoman Diana Klink, in response to inquiries, pointed to city code section 31-702 that prohibits agricultural animals and livestock in the zone where the Frenches reside.
Delise French said they are yet to contact their council representative, Charles Parr, or any other council member, and don’t want to stir up too much of a fuss … unless that’s what it takes.
“You wouldn’t believe the people who said, ‘I will come to the City Council meeting with you,’” she said. “If I went back to these people and said, ‘I want your support,’ I could fill that meeting room.”