Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Planning Commission's Rationale? -- We May Never Know!

Was the Planning Commission's recent recommendation to continue to restrict laying hens in Chesapeake, VA, a rational, thoughtful one? One based on data and research? Or one based on ignorance and some arcane process of decision-making prior to hearing out all the facts of the case?

What makes the Commissioners' vote most disturbing to us is that we residents, local business-owners, and other members of the pubic have no way of knowing. There was no public discussion and no rationale for any of the nay-sayers' votes. Therefore their negative vote was surprising in light of the fact that nine residents spoke for changes in the local laws concerning laying hens, and nobody spoke against: not one resident, not one Commissioner. Our members sat through the evening, waiting to be asked questions. There were none. The one Commissioner who spoke on the topic only had positive things to say about our proposal to allow up to six laying hens on all single-family residential lots.

Here is what one of our speakers, Tom Powell, had to say to Commissioners in the following articulate email. He granted us permission to reproduce it here:

I have lived on the Southside since 1990 (Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and
now Chesapeake since 2008).

I was present at the meeting last night and was very delighted to see
how you performed your duties with regard to the following:

UP-08-06 Blake's Auto service.
- I drive by his business every day to and from work. He has
continually been improving his business appearance since I moved to
Chesapeake. On a long strip of Military Hwy where most of the
businesses do not have much curb appeal his does.
- You overturned the staff recommendation with detailed discussion.
There was no public opposition. You recognized the only opposition to
Mr. Blake was the changing city ordinances and his being a small
business owner with few resources. WELL DONE! I will start to visit
Blake's Auto Service in the near future.

UP-12-23 Caren's Caring Place.
- You overturned the staff recommendation with detailed discussion.
One of you even said how his extended family has utilized similar
services as he was growing up. There was no public opposition. You
recognized the only opposition to Mrs. Ferebee was the changing State
and City ordinances. Being a small business owner with no complaints
in the last 15 years of her business, you granted her a use permit.
WELL DONE! I wish her God's speed.

UP-12-29 Xtreme Window Tint and Detailing
- You overturned the staff recommendation with detailed discussion.
One of you even called out the numerous improvements made by the
owner. The owner had a very detailed plan of how to be a good neighbor
with many stipulations. You saw the wisdom that many of these
stipulations were hard to enforce and were already spoken to in the
numerous other ordinances. You granted his use permit and reduced the
stipulations to only a reasonable few. WELL DONE!

UP-12-25 Executive Tattoo
- You upheld the staff recommendation with detailed discussion and
numerous questions to the sole public opposition presented. You
discerned the difference between actual day care facilities and
businesses. You exposed the accusation of a tattoo parlor being
equivalent to a penitentiary or like facility. Of my wife's three
tattoos, she is a law abiding citizen and does not encourage our son
to lead a life of crime by having them or visiting a tattoo parlor.

Up to this point, most if not all your votes were unanimous and made
sense. However with regards to the following:

TA-Z-12-07 Amending Chesapeake Code for allowing hens in residential districts.
- You upheld the staff recommendation. NO discussion, one comment from
a commissioner. NO questions. NO public opposition. The silence was
- Six Chesapeake taxpayers and one Norfolk resident presented facts
and evidence of how backyard flocks are helping cities across the
nation. One presenter gave you a flyer from the early 1900s "Uncle Sam
Expects You To Keep Hens and Raise Chickens."  This flyer may be
dated, but as one of the Commissioners positively spoke to his
upbringing with neighborhood daycare facilities (which is frowned on
by "modern" zoning); this is something valuable from our past we need
to get back to.
-A motion was quickly made to change the code to allow 6 hens and
remove the six foot privacy fence requirement. This was quickly
seconded and then put to a vote. 3 for and 4 against. Commission chair
was reminded something needed to be voted on and forwarded to the City
Council. He asked for a motion. With delay one of you moved to accept
the staff recommendation and deny a change to the city code. With
greater delay, chair repeatedly asked for a second to the motion. The
vote was the same.

Therefore, I am completely puzzled. You did not engage any of the
speakers. No one spoke negatively. No one mentioned any public outcry
against backyard flocks. No one presented a single fact to the
negative. Your silence on TA-Z12-07 gave the impression of being
prejudice, narrow-minded and aloof. You did not give that impression
for any of the other issues before you last night. I thought a public
hearing was just that, public. It "appeared" your decisions were made
in private and before the presentations were made. As a current
Chesapeake taxpayer, I want to know what our publicly elected and
appointed officials are doing with funds I have entrusted to them.

What if you voted down Mrs. Ferebee or Mr. Blake with no explanation
to your decision? That type of a decision would be perceived
outrageous from public officials (and rightly so). Please do not make
future decisions without presenting facts or at least an opinion or
uninformed conjecture. This is what makes the public very suspicious
of elected/appointed officials.

Very respectfully,
Mr. T. H. Powell

Update: On November 20, Chesapeake City Council voted 6-3 to allow hens with certain restriction in residential areas.

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