Buck this trend

Published 10:10 pm Friday, March 24, 2017

Backyard chickens could have a path to approval for more homes in Suffolk as a result of a committee’s vote this week.

A Planning Commission committee voted 4-0 on Tuesday to advance a proposed ordinance expanding the areas where hens can be raised in Suffolk. The action is in response to nine months of pressure from citizens for more opportunities to raise chickens in residential areas of the city. The full Planning Commission will consider the matter during its April 18 meeting.

But those who have argued that their desire to raise egg-laying hens would have no effect on their neighbors are undone by the very language of the ordinance, which lays out a series of stipulations that must be met for chickens to be allowed in various new residential parts of the city — and those stipulations will cost taxpayers real dollars, whether they raise chickens or not.

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First, the proposed ordinance disallows chickens in areas zoned as medium or greater housing density, allowing them, instead, in zones marked Residential Low or Residential Low-Medium. It’s a safe bet that most folks in Suffolk couldn’t guess what their home’s zoning designation is, and it will fall to employees at City Hall to help them make the determination and then to follow up on every new report of a chicken coop being built in some residential area or another.

While they’re checking those coops, city staffers will need to carry along a tape measure to check that the structures are within the prescribed setbacks, that they measure less than 100 square feet in area and that they are no closer than 20 feet to any adjacent dwelling.

While they’re at it, staff will have to check that the homeowner has a Virginia Livestock Premises Registration on file with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, they will need to make sure that feed containers are secure and that the coops are constructed such that animals cannot get in or out.

It is, perhaps, true that none of those things will be a massive burden on the bureaucracy, but it’s clear, nonetheless, that backyard hens are not the simple, unobtrusive matter that proponents have pitched so hard.

Suffolk already has plenty of areas where backyard hens can be raised. The Planning Commission, and then the City Council, should buck this particular trend.