Sunday, October 21, 2012

Overlay Districts vs. Chesapeake Hens

Our group, 4 Chesapeake Hens, is trying to get micro-flocks of up to six laying hens legalized in residential areas in Chesapeake, Virginia. The Planning Commission has voted against our initial efforts to do this by one vote in a split decision. We may never know the Commissioners' true reasons for voting against us because there was no public discussion or debate against the chickens at the meeting. Those who voted against us have not even given us reasons in our follow-up contacts with them, other than something vague to the effect that the Staff Report seemed thorough and sufficient.

Except that it was not. Our group has researched further information on the Staff Report that we intend to share with City Council. In the meantime, the part of the Staff Report that disturbs me the most is this one:

 ... It's me, again. What bothers me most about this portion of the document is that it is completely clueless about the "urban homesteader" point of view or the other national movements that are behind the interest in gardening. It is clueless regarding WHY an interest in urban chickens is sweeping this nation. Why should hens be banned due to something as arbitrary as an overlay district, if there is nothing intrinsically undesirable about the chickens? We are not asking for a dismantling of these districts, but merely permission to keep a few chickens like any other pet. Doing so will make Chesapeake an even better, more desirable place to live. Residents will be able to enjoy organic gardening and permaculture without leaving their own yards.

Here we are, doing our best to combat urban sprawl and preserve the environment. We also want to live in the residential areas where infrastructure is already in place to support our homes. Some of us are taking older, beat-up homes in residential areas and fixing them up. We hire local remodeling, heating and air-conditioning companies, and other local businesses to do this, thus contributing to the local economy. We generally spend our local dollars as locally as we can.

We want a small spread to reduce our need for lawn mowing because this process takes a lot of time and is very polluting. We are trying to lessen the impact of our properties even more by replacing relatively unproductive lawn that requires mowing with useful vegetable gardens that do not. We desire to live close to our work and recreational activities to save on time and fuel. Our commitment is to residential areas, and we see hens as part of our environmental commitment and as assistants in fertilizing and maintaining these lawns and gardens without the use of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and other products made from petroleum. They will even help us till our garden beds without the use of noisy, smelly, gasoline-powered tools.

While some of us can't afford to move to a farm or an RE-1 residential estate, others do not want to do so even if we can afford to. The Staff Report suggests that we add to urban sprawl and to the long lines of automobiles sitting on Highway 64 every weekday morning and afternoon. It suggests we burden the City with the need for even more roads and other infrastructure to support this sprawl, all at taxpayer expense. It tells us the solution is not to object to the restrictions regarding laying hens, but to simply move if we don't like this arbitrary and unnecessary policy under the current overlay districts. And it is somehow confident that residents who are willing to give up other amenities and move for the sake of a few chickens will choose to remain in Chesapeake, instead of looking somewhere in North Carolina or elsewhere where the taxes are lower. Does this sound like sound, proactive city planning as our nation watches fuel prices spike and the approach of peak oil? Is it well-considered in a time of prolonged recession and difficult-to-obtain home mortgages? And if residents of the residential overlay district are so vehemently opposed to a few pet hens next door, where have they been at the public hearings on this matter?

Furthermore, I fail to see how a few pet chickens can threaten an entire overlay district, while a few pet parrots or rabbits cannot. This is totally overblown and illogical.

Our group is far from done in making its case before City Council. Others interested in helping with this effort are urged to contact City Council members, to like our Facebook page, and to sit with us, dressed in red, at City Council meetings. The most important of these is coming up on November 20, 2012, when the "hen issue" is back on the agenda for City Council. The meeting starts at 6:30 PM. If you care, BE there!

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