The next step in the county’s process toward establishing new urban agriculture policies — most notably the possibility of allowing backyard hen raising – will come next month.
County Manager Barbara Donnellan will present the county staff’s response to the Urban Agriculture Task Force’s recommendations during a work session Nov. 12.
The task force’s recommendations were presented to the County Board in June, and included these suggestions for backyard chickens:
- Maximum of 4 hens
- No roosters
- Set back at least 20 feet from property lines
- Must file plans for coop and its placement
- Majority of adjacent property holders (within 50 feet of the coop) must consent
- Coop inspection required before occupancy
UATF staff liaison Kimberly Haun said she is unsure when the County Board may take action on the Food Action Plan. Residents are encouraged to attend the public work session but will not be able to participate. Haun said additional specifics about the staff response would not be made available before the meeting.
The task force also made several other, less controversial recommendations:
- Appoint a standing Commission on Urban Agriculture
- Integrate urban agriculture into county planning documents
- Create new community gardens and urban farms, utilizing rooftops and fallow land awaiting development if possible
- Permitting federal SNAP benefits (food stamps) at all Arlington famers markets (currently only a couple accept SNAP)
- Encourage the establishment of a “local food hub” to match up residential food producers with distributors and consumers
- Encourage the creation of additional Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs
- Support additional healthy eating and urban agriculture education in schools and libraries
- Repurpose the historic Reeves farmhouse as a center for urban agriculture education for Arlington school students
- Establish a municipal composting system
Last night, the Arlington County Civic Federation debated a proposed resolution regarding raising backyard chickens, but it didn’t get very far.
Jim Pebley, a member from the Waycroft-Woodlawn Civic Association, had proposed the resolution, which opposes changing the county ordinance in order to allow residents to raise chickens.
Currently, livestock or poultry must be kept at least 100 feet away from a property owner’s street and lot lines, which is a difficult feat considering the size of lots in Arlington. A group called the Arlington Egg Project has proposed eliminating that restriction so that residents can raise egg-laying hens in their backyards. The county’s recently-formed Urban Agriculture Task Force is tackling the issue and is expected to make recommendations to the County Board by early next year.
Pebley gave a presentation explaining why it would be detrimental to the community to allow backyard chickens. In addition to irking neighbors with noise, Pebley contends chickens in backyards would attract rodents, pose a health risk and pollute groundwater that drains to the Chesapeake. He said the chickens and their waste also produce odors, which would bother neighbors.
“The smell is unavoidable,” said Pebley. “This just really borders on nonsense.”
He also said it would be difficult for the county to enforce regulations for raising chickens, due to the animals being hidden in backyards. That, he believes, would push neighbors to report each other to authorities.
“You aren’t going to have any more staff to enforce this. Neighbors are going to have to be the ones who enforce it,” Pebley said. “We’re going to have to turn the neighbors into police.”
Ed Fendley, co-founder of the Arlington Egg Project, gave a presentation in favor of backyard chickens. He said the group is interested in allowing a limited number of hens, but not roosters. He explained that with a limited number of hens, waste problems and noise would be minimal.
Fendley doesn’t believe the proper avenues have been followed to get information about urban agriculture out to the public. He asked the Civic Federation members to keep an open mind and to let the facts get out as part of the proper process.
“The Arlington Egg Project wants to foster a community conversation about backyard hens,” said Fendley. ”All we’re asking you to do tonight is reserve judgment, we’re not asking you to join us.”
Fendley said the group is gaining support and more than 1,000 people have signed a petition requesting that Arlington allow backyard hens.
In addition to disagreeing with the way the backyard hen issue is being addressed, Fendley contends the Civic Federation’s resolution is unbalanced and biased as currently written.
“Let’s believe in Arlington, and let’s let the process work,” Fendley said. “If you believe in that process and if you believe in facts, then I ask that you join me in voting against this premature resolution.”
As it turns out, there wouldn’t be a vote on approving the resolution due to member concerns.
More Residents Upset With Road Work — Arlington Ridge residents aren’t the only ones who have qualms about Arlington County’s traffic calming efforts. In the Chain Bridge Forest neighborhood, residents “wanted $16,000 worth of speed humps… What they got was $200,000 worth of concrete dividers and narrowed lanes that they said increased the risk of drivers being rear-ended while turning into the neighborhood.” [Washington Examiner]
Chicken Boosters Look to 2012 — Supporters of hen-raising in Arlington are hoping for action from the county government in 2012. They hope to convince homeowners (and the County Board) that keeping outdoor chicken coops won’t cause noise and odor problems, since hens are quieter than roosters and since regular coop cleaning can abate the smell. [Sun Gazette]
MMA Champ Trains in Arlington — Did you know that there’s a mixed martial arts gym in the Courthouse area? Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight titleholder Dominick “The Dominator” Cruz trained and spoke to the media at the Team Lloyd Irvin NOVA MMA gym at 2407 Wilson Boulevard yesterday. The gym’s class offerings include Brazilian jiu jitsu, judo, Thai kickboxing, women’s fitness, children’s martial arts and mixed martial arts. [NOVA MMA, USA Today, MMA Nation]
Photo courtesy Jeannette Louise Smith