Prince William supervisors send back bid to allow chickens

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 10, 2010

The battle for backyard chickens rages on in Prince William County after supervisors failed to act Tuesday on a resolution that would have allowed people to raise chickens and other fowl in certain parts of the county.

After listening to about a dozen people wearing stickers featuring a chicken, the Board of County Supervisors voted, 6 to 2, to send the issue back to the Planning Office to create a map of an overlay district of where chickens would be allowed. Supervisors Maureen S. Caddigan (R-Dumfries) and John D. Jenkins (D-Neabsco) cast the dissenting votes.

"Rather than make a sweeping rule, we should look at which chunks of the county this fits with and which it doesn't," Supervisor Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles) said. "I think an overlay district could work. There's a line we can draw that separates the part of the county where chickens fit in and where chickens don't" and then craft standards that fit.

Prince William prohibits livestock -- cows, pigs, sheep and other animals -- and fowl on properties smaller than two acres and on those larger than two acres that include a house, even if they're zoned for agriculture. Horses and small animals, such as pygmy goats, are allowed. County chicken owners, however, are pushing officials to loosen the laws.

"I believe all semi-rural properties should be allowed to have chickens; that seems like the fair solution," Woodbridge resident Jeremy Frazier said. "Don't separate the county. . . . Jump on board the backyard chicken movement."

Supervisors, who held a work session on backyard chickens last month, could have put the issue to rest Tuesday when Supervisor W.S. Covington III (R-Brentsville) offered a resolution that would have allowed chickens on properties two acres or larger, with a house, in the agricultural and rural residential areas and on some one--acre lots. But the motion failed because many supervisors weren't comfortable with a countywide ordinance, saying that not all one- and two-acre lots are created equal.

"Backyard chickens is an urban and suburban movement," said Prince William resident Vic Cole, who helped Covington with the resolution. "I ask Prince William County to join the ranks of other cities around the country like New York . . . Atlanta and Miami. . . . Please be sensible."

Residents who live on agricultural land called the matter a property rights issue and said that if neighbors can have horses and small animals, they should be able to keep fowl on agricultural land. Others cited advantages of chickens, including fresh eggs and their consumption of ticks and beetles.

"I personally want chickens because I hate the ticks. My yard is infested, and I don't want Lyme disease. I want chickens," Gainesville resident Bethanne Kim said. "We moved here, not to Fairfax, when we saw all the lots with horses and cows. . . . We want the rural agriculture feeling."

Their position has been backed by the Prince William-Fairfax County Farm Bureau, which had a representative at Tuesday's meeting and supports allowing chickens on any agriculturally zoned property, regardless of acreage.

Although some county officials support allowing chickens, they said they have had complaints, 26 in fiscal 2010, from residents who cited the smell, noise from roosters and chicken waste getting into groundwater.

Because the issue went back to the Planning Office, it will have to go through another review by the Planning Commission and the board. Nohe said he'd like to move on the issue quickly, but no date is set for it to return to the board.

"This process has gone on longer than I wanted," Covington said of the issue, which was raised by residents last year. "The major problem I have is when you buy into agricultural zoning, you have a certain expectation. I've always understood that agriculture includes chickens."

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