I called the Planning Department today on behalf of 4 Chesapeake Hens to learn more about how the local political process works. Our group is trying to change the laws in Chesapeake, VA, so more residents can legally own laying hens.
My contact was very polite and informative. Here is what I learned:
1. If our group wants to have input of any kind into the laws regarding laying hens in Chesapeake, there are really only two places to do so: at the Planning Commission meetings when public input is requested, and at the City Council meetings themselves.
2. Staff Recommendations will be published online this Friday, October 5. This report will publish the input that the Health Department, Animal Control, and other City agencies have about the issue of chickens in Chesapeake. This report will be important for us to study.
3. There can be a variety of outcomes to the Commission meeting, and there's really no predicting how it will turn out until it happens:
A. The Commission could recommend that the law be changed to what the Planning Department has recently recommended, even though our group has objections to some of its provisions, as outlined in earlier posts.
B. The Commission could disagree with the Planning Department and recommend to the City Council that the current law be left as it is. Our group contends this law is unfair because only those with the money and inclination to own "residential estates" of three acres or more (RE-1) are permitted to own hens as pets.
C. The Commission could amend the Planning Department's proposed changes and send on the amended proposal to the City Council.
D. The Commission could decide to continue the matter and to send the "hen issue" back to the Planning Department for further study.
4. Whatever the Commission's recommendations, our group will still have an opportunity to address our side of the "hen issue" when it comes back before City Council.
In other words, it is critically important that "4 Chesapeake Hens" put pressure on the Planning Commission at the meeting on Wednesday, October 10. Those of us who plan to speak will work together and develop our strategy this week. We ask that everyone else who wants laying hens for as wide a range of Chesapeake residents as possible, everyone who thinks the current laws are unfair, and everyone who thinks that it is ridiculous to require a six foot privacy fence to contain hens that are already kept in a pen on one's own property, to come to the meeting at 6:30 PM dressed in red. Those of us who plan to do the talking need a strong, visible show of support from the community to help us get our points across.
If you care, be there!
**Update on 10/15/12: Last Wednesday we appeared before the Commission. We nearly got a recommendation we could live with, but it lost by one vote. The Commission voted to deny our request for changes in the zoning laws regarding chickens. The matter now goes back to City Council, which actually makes the decision. That hearing is set for November 20.
Update: On November 20, Chesapeake City Council voted 6-3 to allow hens with certain restriction in residential areas.