Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Victory 4 Chesapeake Hens!

Last night, Chesapeake City Council voted 6-3 to allow up to six laying hens, in a pen, on single-family lots in residential areas. This was the result of a lot of hard work and teamwork by a dedicated group of individuals dedicated to individual freedom, property rights, sustainability, and--yes!-- chickens!

There are two caveats: homeowners' association or property owners' association rules still supersede this law. And there was a "sunset clause" built into the legislation, so City Council will be asking for another Staff Report in about a year. The law could be undone if chickens at that point are causing major problems in the city.

But our research predicts this won't happen. We are happily resting up, making gardening plans, studying coop designs, and picking out chicken breeds.

Thanks to all those who supported 4 Chesapeake Hens in this historic effort. Click here if you'd like to watch my speech requesting the change.Click here if you want to watch the historic vote. Specific City Council Members' input will be posted as soon as available on YouTube. In the meantime, it is available on the City Council webpage under the November 20th agenda.

**Update: After seeing some posts on our Facebook page, let me add some further clarifications: the new law allows laying hens. Killing or processing one's chickens for meat is prohibited in residential areas. There are also setbacks for the coop from the property line. The text of the new law is available here, including the 1-year sunset clause on the changes.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

When and Why Were Chickens Banned in Chesapeake? An Answer at Last!

4 Chesapeake Hens is a grass-roots organization that is trying to get micro-flocks of laying hens legalized in all residential areas of Chesapeake, VA. Currently the law only allows chickens on land zoned agricultural and on RE-1 "residential estates" of three acres or more. There, up to four hens (no roosters) may be kept in a pen. Up until yesterday, I have been unable to get factual information from the City regarding exactly when and why chickens were banned (see this previous post).

A member of City Council, Debbie Ritter, finally suggested I contact Dolores A. Moore, our City Clerk, with a request for more research on this topic. Yesterday I received an email that contained copies of minutes from both the Planning Commission and from the City Council where chickens were mentioned. These minutes date back to April 12, 1966, which is even before zoning was legally adopted in Chesapeake. Even then, there is a suggestion that the City preserve tracts of "two or three acres of land" for residents who desire to keep "ponies and chickens."

However, chickens and other poultry were allowed in the residential areas of Chesapeake up until June 17, 1975, when Council voted to allow "livestock, poultry, and other animals not commonly kept as pets" only in the A-1, RE-1, and (now defunct) C-1 Districts. The ordinance went into effect thirty days after its adoption. But even then the minutes make clear that it was the intention of the City to continue to allow residents who already had livestock to continue to do so under a "non-conforming use" unless the residents had stopped for one year, at which point they would not be allowed to begin again.

The only record of any objection to the new law was made by a Mr. Joseph T. Hall of 1385 Elbow Road at the Planning Commission meeting on May 19, 1975, which recommended the adoption of this ordinance. Mr. Hall owned a property zoned R-15s in the South Norfolk borough of Chesapeake, and he had tenants there who kept chickens. When informed that the ordinance "would prohibit the future keeping of animals not commonly classed as household pets on the property," Hall objected to the ordinance.

This ordinance must have generated some confusion or potential confusion about what constituted livestock, because on February 15, 2005, City Council Member Ritter made a motion to approve TA-Z-04-09, an ordinance "to clarify that rabbits, fish, and other animals can be kept as pets under certain circumstances." Council Members Burkhimer, Hayes, Krasnoff, de Triquet, Edge, Newman, Parker, Ritter, and Willis unanimously voted for the measure. Up to ten rabbits were allowed as pets under the ordinance, but domestic fowl were still prohibited.

These minutes answer the questions of when hens were prohibited, but not the question of why. Was the problem increased urban density, as Zoning Administrator John King once told me? Was it due to the mythical problems that chickens presumably cause? Or was there any evidence back in 1975 for the types of potential problems outlined in the Staff Report that 4 Chesapeake Hens has thoroughly rebutted?

To answer that question, I searched through old microfilms of newspapers from June of 1975. A few hours' search turned up an article from the Ledger-Star, dated Thursday, June 19, 1975.  I will quote from this article, "New Law Prohibits Farm Animals in City," below:

"The new regulation is based on a request by the council in January and generated from a claim for the city to pay the value of ducks killed in a residential zone.

"The claim was based on state law requiring cities and counties to reimburse residents when their livestock is fatally wounded by wild dogs.

"In the past several months, as more and more residents have asked for reimbursement from the city, the council has grown increasingly skeptical of their requests.

"When a Martin Avenue man asked for $93 to compensate for 19 ducks killed by stray dogs, Councilman J. Bennie Jennings Jr. noted the man lived in a district zoned for single-family homes on small lots. The Martin Avenue man received $53.30 for the loss of his ducks but the council voted to refer the question of proper zoning for livestock and poultry breeding to the Planning Commission. The city's planners recommended that farm animals be limited to three zoning districts. 

"Planning Department Director Milton Perry told the council the new ordinance would not apply to bonafide farms in areas subsequently zoned for residential use. 

"Also, the law would not affect persons in resmdential (sic) zones who currently maintain limited numbers of farm animals for their own use. Such situations would be classified as non-conforming uses and so long as such residents did not discontinue keeping farm animals for as much as two years they could keep their poultry and livestock."

With subsequent changes that have been made in state and local laws, the potential for residents with poultry to run the City's coffers dry with spurious livestock claims has been prevented, as explained in 4 Chesapeake Hens' "Further Information" document, pp. 9-11. And it is clear that the original intent of the law was to limit "poultry breeding," not the keeping of a few chickens for household use. Therefore there is no reason that the current Council cannot undo the unnecessary restrictions that have been imposed upon Chesapeake's residents over the years as an unintended consequence of this law. Flocks of up to six laying hens, kept in pens, should be allowed in all single-family residences, for all the reasons explained on this website and elsewhere.

If you  agree with us, be sure to arrive at the City Council meeting this Tuesday, November 20, at 6:30 PM at City Hall on Cedar Rd. Come dressed in red and sit with us. If you desire to speak, you must sign up to speak BEFORE the meeting begins, however. Remarks are limited to five minutes and may be cut to three depending on the number of people speaking. Let City Council know you support TA-Z-12-07 with changes to allow the keeping of up to six hens and the removal of the privacy fencing requirement.

**Update: On November 20, 2012, Councilman Robert Ike made a motion to allow up to six hens, in a pen, on residential properties on single-family lots. The motion carried, 6-3.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Crunch Time 4 Chesapeake Hens

Laying hens are back on the agenda for Chesapeake City Council. Our organization, 4 Chesapeake Hens, has been trying to get backyard micro-flocks of six laying hens legalized for single-family residences throughout Chesapeake, VA. (Why six? Click here). The current laws allow chickens only on land zoned agricultural. There is one exception: residents who own RE-1 "residential estates" of three acres or more may keep up to four hens, no roosters, in a pen as household pets. In effect, you must have the money to have substantial land in Chesapeake to raise your own fresh eggs. We have been working hard to change that!

Our organization inexplicably suffered a setback at a Planning Commission hearing, as explained in prior posts: click here for the Commission meeting itself, here for our group's frustration at the lack of commentary by the Commissioners who voted against hens, and here for Commissioner Adam Perry's comments on backyard hens. Our official position is that we support a proposed change to existing ordinances, TA-Z-12-07, with changes to allow up to six hens and the removal of the privacy fencing requirement. The hens will already be required to stay in a pen, and the privacy fence will be an unnecessary and cumbersome financial burden for those who merely want a few fresh eggs!

We have new members joining us on Facebook every day. If you are new and want to know what you can do to help, here is a list:

  1.  Like our Facebook page for the latest news and information.
  2. Print up flyers to distribute in likely places, such as at feed stores or with sympathetic coworkers.
  3. Consider sending an email such as this one to friends who are Chesapeake residents. Be sure to sign it!
  4. Contact the mayor and city council members to let them know how you feel. Be polite and respectful.
  5. Most of all, COME to the City Council meeting on November 20. Some Councilors fail to realize how many residents from all across our city and from all walks of life care about this issue and support hens. Since the Planning Commission voted against us 4-3, there will be a negative recommendation against us. We need a huge show of support to counter this. Wear red, the color of the "Little Red Hen," and bring every supporter you can round up for us. 
The meeting starts at 6:30. If you desire to speak, show up by 6:15. You will need to fill out a speaker card and turn it in before the meeting starts in order to be heard. Plan to limit your remarks to five minutes. Realize you might be required to cut your remarks back to three minutes; speakers are guaranteed three minutes if there are too many speakers. So far we've had no problems getting five, though.

If you care, be there! And bring family, coworkers, and friends.

If you have any questions, post them on Facebook or comment here, and I'll get back to you.  If you want to learn more about urban laying hens, our research page is a great place to start. We also have a YouTube Channel that highlights our efforts in front of City Council and the Planning Commission in recent months. The Planning Commission meeting is especially motivating. Not one person spoke against the hens, several spoke for, but the Commissioners voted against them without one word of explanation: not what I expect from my tax dollars at work!

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

Fresh, Local Foods for Residents in Need

I have written before about a local online food co-op here in Virginia, Coastal Farms. How the co-op works is that every six months, members pay a $75.00 administrative fee. Then, every week, there is a window open when members can order fresh produce directly from regional farmers. The ordering window is usually from 6 PM Friday night until 10 PM Monday night.

The selections are fantastic: pasture-raised meats, local seafood, local dairy products, prepared heat-and-eat meals made with local foods for busy families, honey, hand-made soaps, local free-range eggs, and nuts and produce. The order is paid for in advance through PayPal. There are drop-off points all over the region. You select the point that is most convenient for you. Then you pick up your order every Thursday at your drop-off point between 4 and 6 PM.

The newest drop-off point is the one closest to me: the Cutting Edge Cafe.Don and I hadn't even realized this fantastic little restaurant existed until it became our drop-off point. We've tried it since then, and the food is reasonably priced and delicious. We will definitely be going back.

Recently I ordered dried figs, hydroponically-grown lettuce and arugula, two different varieties of Virginia-grown apples from the western part of the state, dark-chocolate-covered peanut butter truffles for my birthday (made with goat's milk, believe it or not!), and two different pies for Thanksgiving: apple and sweet-potato. The latter has a pecan topping that looks really good.

I also ordered fresh produce for the region's needy through a new program: Pounds of Plenty. The way it works is this: co-op members can order additional produce from local farmers to be delivered directly to the Food Bank in Norfolk on Thursdays. So far I've ordered fresh kale, a salad mix, collards, and radishes.

It feels goodto supply a variety of fresh, local, vitamin-rich produce to residents who need it the most, and to help our region's small farmers at the same time.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Bathroom Remodel

We interrupt this blog post about gardening and longed-for chickens to announce that our bathroom remodel is complete.
The New Master Bathroom

Yes, Don Burke, my new husband, promised me the sun, but he promised me fresh, clean bathrooms as well. Our house was built in the 60s, and the bathrooms were so hideously decorated and in such bad condition that Don forbade me to take "before" pictures. But the "after" pictures are gorgeous, so we're both happy to share the results with the universe.

Did I mention the bathrooms were built in the 60s? Don says the only way anyone could have ever enjoyed those rooms was to be high on some illegal substance and to view the rooms under a black light.


The master bathroom was decorated in maroon: maroon in the tiles, a maroon sink, and a maroon toilet. All in a tiny space the size of a closet you could hardly turn around in.

I kid you not! Plus the shower in there never worked, at least not from the time Don moved in over 20 years ago.

Master Bathroom Sink

The hall bathroom was bigger, but it wasn't handicap-friendly, which Don and I want to plan for, since we plan to age out in this house. The door was extremely narrow, too narrow for even the slimmest of wheelchairs. The tub was so close to the toilet that, if you had a broken leg, you wouldn't be able to use the toilet, because you'd have no place to stretch your leg out. So, in effect, we had no more room than in the master bathroom.

Our New Hall Bathroom

And the color scheme was just as hideous: beige and a lighter-than-avocado green in the tile, and the same, hideous green in the sink, the toilet, and the tub.

I actually liked the old tub, but everything had to go, because we had to tear down the bathroom completely to make more room. We decided to turn it into a 3/4 bath with a shower instead of a tub. We tore out a closet to gain some much-needed leg room. The whole footprint of the bathroom changed.

I had gone to the local public library to get some books with some remodeling ideas. We hired a local company with a great reputation, Jerry Harris Remodeling, to do the work. Jerry Harris' team did a great job of making my vision a reality, and they made it look easy.

The Hall Bathroom Finally Has Enough Room!

Don was wonderful. He let me pick out almost everything: the tiles, the colors, the fixtures, etc. He picked out a medicine cabinet and the light fixtures, because he's picky about lighting. But, other than that, he let me do the shopping.

What a great husband!

The Hall Shower Has a Bench

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sweet Potatoes

The region of the South where we live is known for growing terrific sweet potatoes. Last summer I had purchased some sweet potatoes from a local on-line food co-op, Coastal Farms. These sweet potatoes started sprouting on my kitchen counter, so I snapped off the sprouts, rooted them, and planted them in my garden, just to see what would happen. Here are some pictures of the pretty flowers I eventually got from these plants, and some of the sweet potatoes I harvested when I dug them up. These pictures were taken in early October, although I harvested the last sweet potato this weekend.

Sweet potatoes' flowers look like morning glories

Here are my first sweet potatoes ever, a pleasant surprise!

 Sometimes I think I'm not methodical enough in my approach to gardening, but sometimes a little impulsiveness is a good thing. Raising these sweet potatoes was very easy, and I intend to expand my plantings next year.