The rise of backyard chickens in Northern Virginia has sparked a heated policy debate in Arlington, but it has also led to an increase in abandoned chickens showing up at shelters.
In 2011, Prince William County approved a measure that allowed raising birds on some residential properties. Since then, the number of chickens that the Prince William County Animal Shelter has taken in has risen.
In 2011, the shelter — which also accepts chickens from Arlington, since the Animal Welfare League of Arlington does not house poultry — saw 23 chickens. After Prince William passed its new ordinance, the number of chickens at the PWCAS jumped to 33 in 2012 and 29 already in 2013.
According to Laurie Thompson, an administrator with the PWCAS, the first 16 chickens the shelter took in this year were strays, a number she noted was both unusual and likely attributable to abandoned chickens.
“If somebody knows how to handle a chicken and they keep their numbers down low and don’t have roosters that are going to crow, then it’s probably okay having one or two hens for eggs,” Thompson told ARLnow.com. “But sometimes, people can get excessive with these things, keep bringing them in, and then it becomes a health hazard with chicken feces. It’s not really good for an urban area to have all those feces to deal with, because those can bring in rats.”
Arlington residents are allowed to raise poultry in an enclosure 100 feet or more from property lines, but a debate has grown in the past year around reducing the limit. Last month a majority of the county’s Urban Agriculture Task Force, created in 2012, recommended reducing the enclosure limit to 20 feet from a property line, but allowing no more than four hens, no roosters and requiring permission from neighbors.
The recommendation is being considered by county staff, which will then make its own recommendation to the County Board. The Board is not expected to take action on the subject until the fall.
Animal Welfare League of Arlington spokeswoman Kerry McKeel said the organization participated in a discussion about backyard chickens with the task force, but hasn’t otherwise offered any opinions about the implications of additional urban hen raising.
“At this point a decision has not been reached on how the ordinance will be changed, so at this time AWLA does not have a position on the issue,” she said. In the past year, McKeel said the AWLA has picked up four roaming chickens and sent them either to Prince William or farm sanctuaries in rural Virginia or Maryland.
One of the country’s biggest farm sanctuaries that takes in chicken spoke out against backyard chickens to NBC News earlier this month.
“They’re put on Craigslist all the time when they don’t lay any more… They’re dumped all the time,” said Susie Coston, national shelter director at the Farm Sanctuary based in Watkins Glen, N.Y.
Arlington Egg Project, which has advocated for more flexible laws allowing chickens in Arlington backyards, issued a response after the task force’s June recommendation.
“Keeping small numbers of backyard hens is good for people, good for the natural environment, and good for hens,” the statement reads. “That’s why a large and increasing number of American communities embrace backyard hens.”
Arlington Wins Diversity Award — The National League of Cities has presented Arlington with its 2012 Cultural Diversity Award. The awards showcase “examples of how cities achieve excellence in diversity, promotes the positive results of ‘total community collaboration’ and honors community leadership in developing creative and effective programs to improve cultural diversity.” [Arlington County]
Hen Raising Critics Speak Out — Critics of a proposal to allow backyard hen raising in Arlington spoke out during Saturday’s County Board meeting. “Send it to the slaughterhouse,” civic activist Robert Atkins said of the proposal, which is supported by a group called the Arlington Egg Project. Critics say backyard hens could produce noise, odors and neighborly conflicts, among other ill effects. [Sun Gazette]
Hagel to Speak at Marymount Commencement — Arlington-based Marymount University announced yesterday that former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) will be its 2012 commencement speaker. Hagel will address Marymount grads at D.A.R. Constitution Hall on Sunday, May 20.
Flickr pool photo by Divaknevil
DUI Checkpoint on Columbia Pike — As promised, Arlington County Police (and the Sheriff’s Office) conducted a DUI checkpoint on Friday night. The checkpoint was set up near the intersection of Columbia Pike and George Mason Drive. Some 400 vehicles passed through and one DUI arrest was made, according to police.
Arlington’s Bikeshare Strategy — Arlington is currently in the process of creating a six-year strategic plan for the continued growth and utilization of Capital Bikeshare in the county. The plan is expected to be presented to the public in June. An initial draft of the plan includes some data from 2011: the county’s cost per Bikeshare trip ($8.18), average Bikeshare trips per day in Arlington (166 — though Bikeshare didn’t expand into North Arlington until April), and percentage of female Bikeshare members (42 percent). [TBD]
Urban Agriculture in Arlington — County officials plan to establish and appoint members to a new “Arlington Urban Agriculture Task Force” next month. Among other assignments, the task force is expected to focus on a proposal to allow residents to keep egg-laying hens in their backyards. Hen advocates from the Arlington Egg Project recently gave a presentation to the Arlington County Republican Committee and were reportedly well-received by supporters of GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul. [Sun Gazette]
Flickr pool photo by Mark C. White
A group called The Arlington Egg Project is holding its monthly meeting tonight at the Fairlington Community Center (3308 S. Stafford St.) at 7:00 p.m. The group’s goal is to get the county to change its ordinances so residents may keep a limited number of hens in their backyards.
Next month, the group is holding an “I Love Hens” evening of film and entertainment at the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse (2903 Columbia Pike). The event will feature family friendly stand up comedy, a showing of the documentary “Mad City Chickens: The Return of the Urban Backyard Chicken!” and a conversation about urban agriculture with County Board Member Jay Fisette. Tickets for the February 16 event are $5.
The Arlington Egg Project cites numerous reasons for wanting backyard chickens, including reducing household food costs and increasing family nutrition. As part of its urban agriculture initiative, the County Board decided to create a task force this year that will look into a number of issues, including backyard hen raising.
Last year, then-County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman used the annual chairman’s New Year’s Day address to promise a pro-business agenda for 2011. Indeed, the agenda eventually became a reality. Throughout the year the county held a series of public forums for business owners, worked to streamline some regulatory process and finally, in December, the Board adopted a measure that allowed A-frame signs — a big item on local business owners’ wish lists.
This morning the new County Board Chairman, Mary Hynes, promised to enhance civic engagement in Arlington. Already famous for its process of including community stakeholders in decision making — a process broadly referred to as “The Arlington Way” — Hynes is seeking to more formally institutionalize Arlington County’s commitment to civic engagement.
To do so, Hynes is proposing to first create a “map” of the numerous nonprofit groups and community associations that make up Arlington’s civic landscape.
“Our hope is that this expands our understanding of what each Arlington group does… and becomes a valuable resource for each Arlingtonian, newcomer and old-timer, teen to senior, seeking to make connections in our community,” Hynes said.
Hynes also wants to officially define what “The Arlington Way” means. Appropriately, she proposes to come up with a definition by engaging in a wide-ranging community discussion.
“We will convene a formal county-wide conversation to develop a clear description of The Arlington Way as it applies to and should energize our decision-making going forward,” she said. “Working with County Board Members, Commissioners, County staff, and Arlington residents, non-profits, and businesses, we will delineate the roles and responsibilities of participants in our civic decision-making processes.”
In another new initiative, Hynes announced that every Monday night (except for federal holidays) a County Board member will hold a two-hour “open door” session, “where residents can discuss any County-related issue with a Board Member.” The sessions will be held from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.; session locations will be posted on the county web site.
“I believe it’s time to reinvigorate The Arlington Way,” Hynes concluded. “This is not an exercise. It is not about simply checking a box on civic engagement. Our goal is for more members of our community to be involved — actively and constructively — in the important local government decisions that affect their lives and those of their neighbors.”
Following Hynes’ address, Walter Tejada, the new County Board Vice-Chair, announced some new initiatives of his own. One was to emphasize better communication between the various groups that promote pedestrian and bicycle safety in Arlington. Another notable initiative is the creation of an “ad hoc Arlington County Urban Agriculture Task Force.”
The task force will examine issues like food security, health and fitness, hunger and obesity, and environmental sustainability, in addition to “best practices in sustainable urban agriculture policies and programs.” It will ultimately be charged with creating a “food action plan.”
Tejada said the task force will “explore new options like rooftop gardens, land exchanges, demonstration gardens and backyard hens.” The latter option will likely receive the most attention. Last spring a sizable group of vocal Arlington residents formed the “Arlington Egg Project” — to actively encourage the county to adopt policies that would more broadly permit the raising of egg-laying hens in Arlington.
More information about Hynes’ and Tejada’s proposals, and those of Board members Jay Fisette and Chris Zimmerman, is available on the Arlington County web site.
Pat Foreman, co-host of the “Chicken Whisperer Backyard Poultry and Sustainable Lifestyles Talk Show,” will be addressing members of the Arlington Egg Project (motto: “Give Peeps a Chance“) on Thursday night. Foreman has written books like “City Chicks,” “Chicken Tractor” and “Day Range Poultry,” which promote the benefits of small-scale hen-keeping. She will teach interested Arlingtonians the ins and outs of “keeping micro-flocks of laying hens as garden helpers, compost makers, bio-recyclers and local food suppliers.”
Foreman, who lives near Lexington, Va., will provide chicken supporters additional ammunition in their quest to get Arlington to relax rules that prohibit the vast majority of residents from keeping egg-laying hens in their backyards. Among the poultry-powered benefits she promotes: “enhance backyard agriculture… divert food and yard ‘waste’ out of landfills… decrease oil consumption… lower carbon footprints… improve national defense and emergency preparedness.”
Foreman will also be selling autographed books.
The event, co-sponsored by the Virginia Cooperative Extension, will take place on Thursday, Oct. 20 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the Fairlington Community Center (3308 S. Stafford Street). The public is asked to pre-register by calling 703-228-6414 or by emailing [email protected]
Following Foreman’s talk, the Arlington Egg Project plans to discuss the “next steps” in its advocacy effort. The group has told members that it’s nearing 1,000 signatures on a petition it plans to present to the Arlington County Board.