Almost two years ago I started a Facebook Page, 4 Chesapeake Hens. Through this page I successfully organized a group that convinced our City Council to allow up to six laying hens on all single-family lots with certain restrictions. Chesapeake, Virginia, thus became a regional leader in the local foods, sustainability, and backyard chicken movement, with cities such as Portsmouth, Norfolk, Hampton, and Richmond later following suit by loosening up the legal restrictions that had prevented backyard micro-flocks. Of these, Chesapeake probably allows residents the most freedom. We have the shortest setbacks for the coop from the property line and no need for a license or inspection to have a flock. Coops must, however, comply with laws regarding accessory structures, so a permit for the coop is a definite possibility, depending on its size and structure.
Council put a one-year sunset clause on the new ordinance. This means that City Council must vote by December 20, 2013, to make the new law permanent, or Chesapeake's residential chickens will once again become illegal. Many people think this is highly unlikely unless backyard hens cause massive problems in the city, which they have not. This report, based on statistics acquired from the City under Virginia's Freedom of Information Act, shows that complaints about chickens in residential areas have actually decreased since the change in the law. And our group's contacts inside local government tell us that there have been few or no problems with chickens in residential areas since our group published this report.
Nevertheless, our group does not want to be complacent about our rights. During the late summer months we ran a "City Council Member of the Week" campaign, but with residential hens coming up on the agenda, we need to take further action. During a recent meeting of our leadership, here is what we have decided to do. This plan was revised on 11/4, when we were informed that hens will be on the agenda on November 26, NOT in December like we were originally (but tentatively) informed:
1. TJ "The DJ" Thompson will speak for our group as a "non-agenda" speaker on November 12. He will politely let Council know to expect contact from residents in favor of backyard hens.
2. We will run a "thank-you note" letter-writing campaign from November 12 up to the vote on November 26, with brief but positive
expressions of appreciation for the opportunity to keep hens. We recommend that these be very short and contain pictures for Council to view.
These should be sent to the City Council members' home addresses as
posted on the City's website.
City Council has always appreciated how polite, well-informed, and
positive our group is, and this occasion should be no different.
3. Members of our group are collecting letters of support
from local businesses, neighbors, and civic groups. We hope to have
these collected by the Friday before Thanksgiving, November 22, with an eye to having these copied and collated to present to Council by one of our speakers on the 26th. Or, better yet, send these directly to City Council in order to give members time to read them before the actual vote.
4. Council will have a work session on November 19 at 4:30 PM (subject to change). It would be great if one of our group could sit in on the meeting and report back on what was presented. I will go if I can, but I will not know until I know what time they meet. The public is not permitted to speak at work sessions, but they are open to the public. Council will also notice our presence there.
5. On the day of the vote, November 26, we will come to the City Council meeting with all the forces we can muster. We will wear the color green, the color of sustainability, so Council can see our numbers in the chambers. "Green means go!" in respect to continuing to allow us to keep our hens. We will make sure several of us sign up to speak that day, all with different, positive things to say about hens and our rights to keep them. Hopefully, Council will then vote to allow us to have them on a long-term basis.
Council meetings take place at City Hall at 306 Cedar Rd. They start at 6:30 PM, and anyone who wishes to speak must sign up in advance of the meeting. This can either be done at City Hall or by calling the City Clerk's office at 382-6151 during office hours of 8 AM through 5 PM weekdays.
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.