Del. Mark D. Sickles seldom fails to note that he is a proud member of the Virginia General Assembly’s House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources committee.
“It’s my passion,” the Fairfax County delegate said again Wednesday morning. The note of irony was unmistakable.
This is Sickles’s wry way of needling the House Republican leadership for assigning a Democratic representative from a Northern Virginia district abutting the Beltway to a panel whose agenda this year concerned legislation on falconry, hunting licenses and the nighttime training of bear-hunting dogs.
But now comes Fairfax County Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon), whose proposal this week to ease the county’s regulations on keeping chickens might just give Sickles a meaty new topic to take up with his committee peers and his constituents.
Hyland floated the chicken-roosting proposal Tuesday, along with several poor puns and wisecracks, at a meeting of the county’s Development Process Committee. (It actually fell to committee Chairman Michael Frey, the Republican supervisor from the Sully District, to articulate the proposal for the conveniently absent Hyland.)
The idea, which appears to be a sign of a growing interest in urban chicken coops and locally raised food, would be to loosen Fairfax’s restrictions so that people with smaller lots could raise chickens.
Under current county zoning laws, anyone who owns two acres or more may keep a certain number of chickens or other barnyard critters. People who live on less than two acres, however, cannot keep such animals unless they obtain a special permit.
Eileen M. McLane, the county’s zoning administrator, said that at the moment, residents must go before the Board of Zoning Appeals and pay a filing fee of $885 to obtain a special permit to raise chickens on fewer than two acres. That fee will rise July 1 to $910. But McLane said her staff would examine Hyland’s idea.
At the same meeting, Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee) also suggested drawing up regulations to deal with small, portable housing units that allow people to set up temporary quarters for elderly or ailing relatives. The units were created by a Salem, Va.-based company, N2 Care, as a way of helping families tend to aging loved ones, and are now available for sale.
The Virginia General Assembly passed legislation last year that cleared the way for the use of such structures, which have been dubbed “granny pods,” and placed limits on local jurisdictions’ ability to regulate them.
The proposals from Hyland and McKay came as the Development Process Committee discussed a list of other proposed changes to the county’s zoning laws. Among the priorities are cracking down on restaurants that nightly transform themselves into dance clubs; amending the code to address the housing needs of low-income people in need of a studio apartment; regulating wineries; and guiding in-fill development.