Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Chickens vs. The Sunset Law, First Efforts

Our grass-roots community group, 4 Chesapeake Hens, succeeded in convincing City Council to allow up to six "female chickens" with certain restrictions on all single-family residential lots in Chesapeake, Virginia. There was a one-year sunset clause on the ordinance, which passed in November of 2012. This means that City Council must vote to make the law permanent by December 20, 2013, or we will lose our right to keep our chickens legally.

Last night at City Council I made a speech and presented the results of our group's Freedom of Information Act request for data on violations and complaints regarding residential chickens. Here is the text of my speech:

"My name is Mary Lou Burke, and I live at 945 Hollywood Drive.

"As a resident of Chesapeake, I am proud of you, our Mayor and City Council. You made a decision to allow micro-flocks of laying hens in all single-family residential backyards. By legalizing hens, you made a decision based on facts, not on myths and misinformation. By legalizing hens, you also led the way toward a more family-friendly, healthier, and more sustainable community. You protected personal property rights by restoring to us our historic right to keep a few hens on our own property and for our own use. And you led the way not only locally, but regionally as well. In the time since Chesapeake legalized residential hens last November, both Richmond and Portsmouth have legalized them, and Hampton, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach are taking another look at their own 'hen laws.' Well done!

"The next step is to make this change permanent. We are all aware that there is a sunset clause on this ordinance, which means that Council must vote to keep the law by December 20, or our rights will lapse. We cannot allow that to happen and to lose the progress that we have already made.To that end, our group presents to you a report based on data that we obtained under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act. The City’s own data shows that violations and even complaints regarding chickens in residential areas have actually decreased since the 'hen law' was enacted. It also proves that there were over 7,000 complaints about dogs and cats in a time period where there were less than 50 complaints about residential chickens. Your city’s own data proves that the 'hen law' should be made permanent.

"Finally, our group asks the City what the time frame and process will be for making the decision about keeping the hen ordinance. We would like to be informed regarding the points in the process where there will be opportunities for public comment. We residents are enjoying our hens tremendously, and we want to be sure that we can continue to enjoy them."

The speech is also available on video but viewers will need to scroll to about 2:12. Our group is proud of our City Council for returning to us an important property right, but our community deserves to see this change made permanent.

Update: On November 26, 2013, Chesapeake City Council voted to make the "hen ordinance" permanent. The meeting may be viewed online:  fast forward to 1:19 to see some great pro-chicken speeches and the City Council's reaction.

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