Wednesday, July 25, 2012

When and Why Were Hens Banned in Chesapeake?

I belong to a group, "4 Chesapeake Hens," that is trying to amend zoning laws in Chesapeake, VA, to allow more backyard hens as pets. At Andy Shneider, the Chicken Whisperer's and our local library's suggestion, I contacted our zoning office to find out exactly when and why hens were banned at most local residences. Here is the bulk of the reply I received from John King, our Zoning Administrator:

Article VI, table of permitted and conditional use,  of the original City of Chesapeake Zoning Ordinance, adopted May 27, 1969, indicated that livestock was permitted in the C-1, conservation district and the A-1, agriculture districts. Chickens were not permitted in any residential district with the exception of RE-1. Chickens were conditional (required a use permit) in the RE-1, residential estate district. Although there have been changes to the ordinance throughout the years, the prohibition on keeping chickens in the residential districts (with the exception of the RE-1) has remained in effect since the initiation of the zoning ordinance.

This answers the "when," but not the "why," part of my question. I plan to follow up to see if we can get any more information. Does anyone else have the local knowledge to answer this question, or are there suggestions about where to research the answer? Let us know!

***Update on  7/26/2012:

I received a return call from John King, the Zoning Administrator, this morning. He was helpful and polite. I explained that his email answered the question regarding WHEN hens were banned from most residential areas of Chesapeake, but it didn't answer the question of WHY.

His answer did not satisfy us very well. He said that chickens have been zoned the way they have since the beginning of zoning in Chesapeake. The reason, according to King, is that chickens are livestock and that there are concerns about livestock in cities due to "urban density." He asserted that at the time the zoning laws were adopted, Chesapeake was becoming denser in population, and he implied the restriction on chickens as livestock was reasonable. He asked me if I could imagine every Chesapeake resident, even apartment dwellers, owning chickens. 

I appreciated his response and will answer his question about apartment dwellers in another post.

***Update on 7/26/2012
I searched through some old newspaper articles from the now-defunct daily newspaper, The Ledger-Star, at the Norfolk Public Library today. Now I am more confused than ever. Is it possible that John King's email to me, quoted above, is inaccurate? 

I found an article dated Wednesday, May 28, 1969, "Zone Plan Ends Long Stalemate," by Lloyd Lewis. It explained that Chesapeake had finally enacted a "master zoning plan" after over six years of contention. But here's the part that got my attention, and I quote:

A startling feature of the new zoning law--one which is perhaps unique among municipalities--is that it allows farming in any zone of the city.

Farming  includes the keeping of livestock. Livestock includes hogs. And there are those who do not love a hog.

Thus the new law contained a built-in source of neighborhood squabbles.

The council, quick to note this, followed up its passage of the zoning plan with the adoption of a hog law designed to keep pigs in their place.

So now, after hours of effort, I am back to my original question: When did Chesapeake pass restrictions on chickens in residential areas, and what were the reasons for the restrictions? And if, in fact, this newspaper article is accurate, and if the Zoning Department therefore cannot answer our questions honestly and accurately, should we as a community accept unsupported government assertions that are sounding to our ears more and more like, "just because"?

**Update on 11/17/12: With the help of Council Member Debbie Ritter and City Clerk Delores Moore, I found the answers to the "when" and the "why." Read here for the details.

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