Hen supporters to be heard Wednesday

Published 10:09 pm Monday, May 15, 2017

The hens may come home to roost for the issue of backyard chickens on Wednesday night during the City Council meeting.

The council is set to have a public hearing on a proposed ordinance that would allow up to six hens to be kept in backyards in certain residential areas.

It could finally be the end of the issue that has been discussed nearly every month for the past year in the Planning Commission, its ordinance subcommittee or in prior appearances before City Council.

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Rebecca Franklin, a leader of the group pressing for the change, said she’s not sure how the vote will go.

“I will continue on in my trend of being optimistic,” she said Monday. “We’re a year into this, and I’m hoping our continued presence and the presence of a lot of people who are in support will assist us in getting the vote to go the way we want it to.”

Currently, chickens are permitted only in agricultural or rural zoning districts. But the proposed ordinance would allow them to be kept in the Residential Low Density and Residential Low-Medium Density residential districts, with restrictions.

The restrictions include no roosters, no more than six hens and a 15,000-square-foot minimum lot size.

Keepers of hens would be required to have a permit and to maintain a coop with a minimum of 10 square feet per bird, with a maximum size of 100 feet. It would have to meet the same setback requirements as the home on the lot. They would have to keep the coop clean so that it doesn’t become a nuisance to neighbors.

The ordinance also would require hen keepers to be able to verify they obtained their chickens from a U.S. Department of Agriculture National Poultry Improvement Plan member hatchery and that they have completed the Virginia Livestock Premises registration.

Franklin said her group will advocate for removing the minimum lot size restriction. Other cities use only zoning districts or minimum lot sizes, but not both, she said.

“I don’t see a reasoning behind having both of them in there,” she said Monday. “The lot size is already written into the (Unified Development Ordinance), so you’re just restating the facts.”

Franklin said she hopes to see lots of supporters at Wednesday’s meeting.

“We’re going to come out, and we’re going to talk, and we’ll see what happens,” she said.

Wednesday’s meeting begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 442 W. Washington St.