H-B’s Rosslyn Home Has New Name — The new Rosslyn home for the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program has a new name, after a School Board vote last night. The under-construction structure’s new name: The Heights Building. The vote came after the School Board voted to change the name of Washington-Lee to Washington-Liberty. [Twitter, Arlington Public Schools]
CPRO Gets New Interim Leader — “The Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO) has named Karen Vasquez as its Interim Executive Director. Karen has spent the last fifteen years working in the field of economic development, creating compelling stories to help recruit and retain Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, hotels and more to Arlington, Virginia.” [CPRO]
Animal Welfare League Nabs Chicken — “AWLA’s 75th animal control case of our 75th year came in just a few days ago! We received a call about a chicken on 8th Rd S., and Officer Swetnam was able to catch the chicken, now affectionately called Henny Penny, and bring her back to the shelter. [Instagram]
Arlington Housing Costs Top D.C. ‘burbs — “Homes in Arlington had the highest per-square-foot costs across the Washington suburbs, according to new sales data, although most jurisdictions saw lower averages from a year before. Arlington’s per-square-foot cost of $435 led the pack but was down from $473 in 2017, according to figures reported Jan. 10.” [InsideNova]
Criticism of School Drug Searches — The Arlington School Board last week heard public criticism of a new initiative to conduct K-9 drug searches after hours at Arlington’s public high schools. Despite talk of a drug problem in local schools, one activist said of the K-9 plan: “I don’t think it is reasonable.” [InsideNova]
Economic Segregation at APS — Arlington Public Schools is just below the threshold of “hypersegregation” in a new study of de facto economic segregation in public schools. Neighboring districts like Alexandria and Fairfax score well below Arlington on the “hypersegregation index,” though Prince William scores just above Arlington and is above the level considered hypersegregation. [Center for American Progress]
County Honors ‘Women of Vision’ — Arlington County’s 2017 Women of Vision honorees have been announced: emergency preparedness advocate Jackie Snelling, Washington Business Journal Editor-at-Large Jennifer Nycz-Conner and La Cocina VA founder and CEO Patricia Funegra. Arlington’s Commission on the Status of Women also honored former Arlington School Board member Dr. Emma Violand-Sanchez with a lifetime achievement award. [Arlington County]
Backyard Chickens Blamed for Salmonella — There have been eight salmonella outbreaks sickening more than 370 people this year due to contact with backyard or pet poultry, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In Arlington, backyard chickens are legal for only a handful of residents with very large backyards. In 2013, after dueling lobbying campaigns by chicken enthusiasts and opponents, Arlington’s county manager recommended against allowing more residents to keep egg-laying hens. [Washington Post]
Delta Experimenting With Biometrics at DCA — Delta is experimenting with a biometric identification system at Reagan National Airport. For now, the system is only being used by members of both CLEAR and Delta’s Skymiles program to enter the airline’s Sky Club lounge. If all goes well, in Phase 2 members will also be able to use their fingerprint to check a bag and board a flight. [Delta]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to Rocky Run Park, apparently.
A chicken was found in the park, on N. Barton Street in the Clarendon-Courthouse area, by an animal control officer Thursday. No one seems to know how the chicken got there.
An Animal Welfare League of Arlington spokeswoman said stray chickens are actually more common in Arlington than one might think.
“We periodically pick up chickens ‘running at large,'” said Susan Sherman.
She said the chicken will be housed at the animal shelter for a couple of days before being shipped off to live out its days on a farm.
“It is being cared for at the shelter as a stray until November 6,” said Sherman. “If it is not claimed by an owner by that date, then we can adopt it to a person with a farm or transfer it to a farm sanctuary.”
“We do not send the chicken to any place where it would be eaten,” Sherman noted. “In our experience stray chickens are almost never reclaimed by owners since very few Arlington residents have the property to keep chickens legally.”
— AWLA Arlington, VA (@AWLAArlington) November 3, 2016
Fire on Ballston Sidewalk — Last night around 6:45 p.m., Arlington County police and firefighters responded to a fire on a sidewalk in Ballston, near the intersection of 9th and N. Stuart Streets. Initial reports suggested that a woman had deliberately set something on fire. No injuries were reported. [Twitter]
Metro Police Seeking Man Who Set Fire at Station — Metro Transit Police are looking for a man who lit something on fire in the Pentagon City Metro station Wednesday morning. The man is later seen on video boarding a train and displaying a sign. [WTOP]
Smoke Closes Pentagon City Station — Smoke in a tunnel near the Pentagon City Metro station prompted a large emergency response and a temporary closure of the station last night. The smoke was caused by an electrical issue. [Washington Post, Twitter, Twitter]
Urban Chicken Issue Still Clucking — The issue of whether Arlington should allow more households to raise egg-laying hens in their yards isn’t quite dead yet. The issue was raised briefly at an Arlington Civic Federation meeting and county staff say they’re willing to consider it if residents bring it up again. [InsideNova]
The spicy option has a Sriracha maple glaze with spicy chicken on the top. The milder option has a maple glaze with honey chicken on the top.
It’s a collaboration with another Arlington eatery. The chicken comes from Dak! Chicken, which is a Korean style chicken restaurant in Shirlington.
“We have sold quite a few,” said Sugar Shack employee Andy Barry. “We’ve definitely had people come in just for the donuts.”
Just don’t expect the fried chicken donuts to be an everyday offering. The donuts will be served only on the last Thursday of every month.
Doughnut Truck Comes to Arlington — A new food truck devoted to doughnuts has hit the streets of Arlington. The truck, from the Penn Quarter eatery Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken, is so far only selling doughnuts and coffee. It plans to stop in Rosslyn, Clarendon and Ballston. [Washingtonian]
Fundraising for Hot Car Mom — A local couple is trying to raise $50,000 for the legal defense of Zoraida Magali Conde Hernandez, the mother accused of accidentally leaving her 8-month-old son in a car for 6 hours on a hot day, leading to his death. The couple says they were “heartbroken” for Hernandez, who is facing a charge of felony child neglect. [Patch]
Flashback: Arlington’s Last Chicken Debate — It turns out this is not the first time that there has been a strong debate in Arlington about urban hen raising. Late in 1945, after the end of World War II, Arlington was preparing to reinstitute an urban chicken ban that had been dropped during the war. The renewed restrictions “drew public debate and strong views on both sides.” [Sun Gazette]
Republican Running for Moran’s Seat — Republican Micah Edmond says he’s planning to run for the Congressional seat of the retiring Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.). Edmond has previously worked in banking, defense policy and as a Marine Corps officer. [National Review]
Pyzyk Poached by Arlington County — ARLnow.com freelance reporter Katie Pyzyk has accepted a full-time position with Arlington County. Pyzyk, who joined us in 2011 and who holds the crown for our most-viewed story of all time, will be a spokeswoman for the Dept. of Community Planning, Housing and Development. We wish Katie the all best in her new position.
The Virginia law that allows dogs to be shot for attacking chickens could be changed thanks to legislation proposed in the General Assembly.
Del. Jennifer McClellan, a Democrat representing Richmond, says she will introduce a bill that would change the law, intended for chicken farms, for urban chickens, according to Style Weekly. Richmond legalized keeping up to four backyard hens in residential areas last April.
“I think we can agree if we’re in a densely populated urban area that it’s not a good idea to have people killing each other’s pets,” McClellan told the Richmond population. She also said that in areas where “chickens are a luxury, not a livelihood, it isn’t clear that a hen’s right to life trumps that of a hungry dog’s.”
Virginia law section § 3.2-6552 allows for citizens to kill any dog caught in the act of killing or injuring poultry. After the fact, Virginia courts have the power to order animal control officers to kill any dog found to be a “confirmed poultry killer.” McClellan’s bill would allow localities to enact ordinances overruling that provision.
There’s a competing law that may also be introduced strengthening chicken protections, which would remove the cap on the amount of money a chicken owner can recoup if its chicken is killed by a dog. The cap is currently set at $10.
The Arlington County Board has been mulling whether to allow backyard hens in denser urban areas for the better part of a year. In November, County Manager Barbara Donnellan recommended against taking action to allow more hens in the county. A plurality of Arlington’s Urban Agriculture Task Force recommended hens be allowed in larger backyards, one of 27 recommendations the task force made in a presentation in June.
Va. Bill Would Stiffen Chicken Protections — A bill currently proposed in the Virginia General Assembly would remove a cap on the penalty for dog owners whose pets kill chickens and other fowl. If passed, the legislation could give new ammunition for opponents of urban hen raising in Arlington. Virginia law already allows for dogs found to be attacking chickens to be shot on sight. [Sun Gazette]
Party Tonight to Include ‘Drunk Santa’ — Fresh off a grueling evening of world-wide present delivering, Santa Claus is apparently ready to party. Wilson Tavern (2403 Wilson Blvd) in Courthouse is hosting a “Misfits Christmas Party” tonight. According to a poster for the event, it includes the opportunity to “get you picture taken with drunk Santa.” [Clarendon Nights]
Vihstadt Has a ‘Very Real Chance’ — Local political prognosticator Ben Tribbett, who runs the Not Larry Sabato blog, says independent Arlington County Board candidate John Vihstadt has a “very real chance” of ending Democrats’ total sweep of Arlington elected offices. “Arlington Democrats always have massive underperformance issues in special elections,” Tribbett writes. “There is a very real chance that in March, Arlington’s time as being controlled by all Democratic elected officials will come to an end.” Tribbett also notes that Vihstadt, despite running as an independent and attracting some Democratic endorsements, is “a large GOP donor.” [Not Larry Sabato]
Flickr pool photo by Ddimick
The Right Note is a weekly opinion column published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
This week, County Manager Barbara Donnellan raised a number of concerns about allowing backyard hens in Arlington. On her list: difficulty of enforcement, public health, sanitation, and even a Virginia law that could put local dogs in jeopardy from overzealous hen owners. In short, rumors that county staff were no fans of the hen proposal have finally been confirmed.
Both sides jumped into the fray after the County Board work session to claim their position was winning the day. If you have not been following, the groups have taken on the name Backyards Not Barnyards and the Arlington Egg Project.
What we know is that we will be waiting a bit longer for a final decision on whether chicken coops will ultimately be allowed in Arlington yards. Based on the slow pace this issue is making along the Arlington Way, it is more likely than not that the final decision will not come to a vote before Chris Zimmerman resigns in late January.
The current scoreboard indicates the remaining County Board Members are split. It seems as though Mary Hynes and Libby Garvey would prefer to table the issue and focus on other priorities, while Jay Fisette and Walter Tejada want to get it done. So, the next County Board member could hold the deciding vote next year. Soon-to-be Chairman Fisette will most certainly keep this issue alive once he assumes control over the gavel.
With Democrat candidates already out lining up support for the special election they should be prepared to tread lightly on this issue as it could be a deciding factor in a low turnout firehouse primary. Add hens to the Columbia Pike trolley as issues candidates will need to “finesse” as they work to build support for their campaigns.
More than an election issue, it represents a rare 3-2 split for a panel that usually agrees to agree. It is refreshing to see a difference of opinion on the Board instead of single party groupthink, but these instances are still too few and far between.
Chris Zimmerman’s departure will create a new dynamic on the Board, in more ways than just hens — or even the Columbia Pike trolley’s future. A new Board Member who has political independence from one-party rule, and pledges to create a new era of transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility, would be a breath of fresh air for Arlington.
Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.
At a work session with the Board last night (Tuesday), Donnellan and county staff presented their work thus far on the recommendations of Arlington’s Urban Agriculture Task Force.
While the task force made a total of 27 recommendations on various urban agriculture issues, the issue of whether to allow residents of single family homes to keep egg-laying hens in their backyards has garnered the most public attention. Donnellan told the Board that there are too many “unanswered questions” about hen raising in Arlington County and enforcement of new hen-related ordinances could prove to be a “drain on county resources.”
She recommended that the current county code on poultry — which requires that the poultry owner keep the animals so far from neighboring property lines that only 15 properties qualify countywide — be maintained. Should the Board decide to move forward with a more permissive ordinance, Donnellan recommended moving slowly — spending up to a year on a public process to try to achieve community consensus.
In a presentation, county staff expressed concern over a number of issues requiring, in their words, further “eggsploration.” Those included:
- How to dispose of dead or dying hens
- What to do with abandoned hens
- How to best enforce hen-related laws and how to find the funding for that enforcement
- The potential of overstressing the Animal Welfare League of Arlington and its animal control officers
- Health and pest concerns
- Virginia laws authorizing hen owners to kill dogs that chase or kill their poultry
Donnellan said a pilot program for urban hens is not possible under the current zoning ordinance. She cautioned that pushing through the hen issue now would require additional county resources at a time when Arlington is facing a $10 million budget gap for Fiscal Year 2015.
In response to Donnellan’s recommendation, the two chicken-related advocacy organizations in Arlington weighed in with dueling statements. Backyards Not Barnyards, which opposes hen-raising in Arlington, wrote the following.
Obviously, we are hugely in agreement with the County Manager… We agree that there are higher priorities for this county than figuring out how make hens to “lay an egg” or two. The benefits don’t come close to the setup and enforcement costs, environmental impacts, health issues and likely neighbor vs. neighbor conflicts. Let’s hope the County Board has the same priorities.
The Arlington Egg Project, which has been promoting the idea of backyard hens for nearly 3 years, said it is confident that the Board will overrule Donnellan’s recommendation.
Thankfully, the County Manager works for the County Board, not the other way around. Chairman Tejada has been clear and persuasive in calling for new efforts on urban agriculture, including those related to restoring our freedom to keep small numbers of backyard hens. We are looking forward to moving ahead under the leadership of Chairman Tejada and his colleagues.
We know that writing clear and enforceable regulations on backyard hens is achievable because hundreds of urban communities have done so — including some that started and completed that process since the Urban Agriculture Task Force was commissioned.
Three County Board members — Jay Fisette, Walter Tejada and Chris Zimmerman — expressed support for allowing urban hen-raising during the work session. Libby Garvey and Mary Hynes said they would rather put the issue aside indefinitely and focus on other priorities.
“I think the fundamental issue is enforcement… where’s the money going to come from” asked Hynes. “A lot of things are more pressing than allowing some people to keep hens.”
A testy Zimmerman, who recently announced his early retirement, said it was “interesting” that staff was recommending against changes to hen-raising regulations when 18 out of 19 Urban Agriculture Task Force members were in favor of some sort of change. He downplayed concerns about the logistics of Arlington allowing hen-raising, arguing that few residents would actually go to the trouble of constructing chicken coops, going through a permitting process and raising hens.
“I can tell you, there ain’t no hens going to being raised in my backyard,” he said. “I’m not going to be responsible for chickens, and I would bet that at least 90 percent of homeowners won’t do it.”
Doubling down on the argument, Zimmerman said he’d bet that no more than 25 homeowners end up raising poultry should the Board change the regulations.
“This is a lot of fuss,” he said. He added that many of the concerns expressed about hens could also be said of dogs and cats.
Donnellan and Board members alike lamented that the hen issue “is taking the air out of the room” and distracting from the other 26 task force recommendations. Staff said a number of the other recommendations could be implemented in the short term, including:
- Curbside collection of food and yard waste
- A “tool library” of donated gardening tools
- Creation of two new community gardens
- An economic development program to support urban agricultural ventures
Long-term recommendations identified by staff include edible landscaping — apple trees, etc. — in public spaces, soil remediation in community gardens and a new “food hub” in Clarendon.
As part of county staff’s urban agriculture work, Donnellan is also recommending $500,000 to stabilize the Reeves farmhouse. The funding, however, is insufficient to allow the farmhouse to be repurposed as a center for urban agriculture education, as recommended by the task force.
The Right Note is a weekly opinion column published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
The county staff response to the Urban Agriculture Task Force’s recommendations will be formally presented at a County Board work session Nov. 12. The most high profile among the recommendations is the consideration of allowing Arlingtonians to keep backyard chickens. If accepted, individuals would be able to have as many as four hens so long as the coops are set back 20 feet from their property lines, and a majority of their adjacent neighbors agree.
The biggest question seems to surround enforcement. How will the county enforce the inspection requirements for new coops as well as ongoing policing to ensure chicken owners stay in compliance? What will they do about people who do not file plans but put coops in their backyards anyway? Will fees for coops and fines for failures to comply cover any need to hire new county code enforcement personnel? Assuming revenue generated by chickens will not cover any costs, how will new personnel be paid for?
The recommendations are a priority for 2013 Board Chairman Tejada, so look for him to try to push these along before his term ends Jan. 1.
Next month, the County Board will consider what to do with excess revenue in the closeout process. Based on recent history, they could have up to tens of millions of dollars to spend outside of the regular budget process. Remember that in a couple months when the County Manager and County Board tell us we have to pay more in property taxes or fees next year because we have a “budget shortfall.”
The Potomac Yard Harris Teeter re-opened after an 18 month closure caused by a sewage backup that was not of their own making. Harris Teeter has sued Arlington County for $1 million in damages, alleging negligence for the backup. Reports on the causes at the time would lead one to believe Harris Teeter may have a case. If so, hopefully the county will settle this quickly rather than burning up time and legal fees for any outside counsel. The Board, as you may remember, ran up well over $1 million in legal fees to sue everyone they could think of during the HOT lanes fight.
Residents across the South Arlington neighborhoods near the Pentagon were largely opposed to the PenPlace development approved by the County Board in September. Among residents’ concerns about the development’s impact on the neighborhoods were traffic, public safety, services, like grocery stores, and parks. Less than a month later, the Board approved an updated Arlington Ridge Neighborhood Conservation plan which covers some of the area near the PenPlace development. The Arlington Ridge plan had not been revised in 40 years.
Kudos to local residents whose concerns about the Crystal City Sector Plan and PenPlace were largely ignored when the County Board approved the plans. After the Crystal City Plan went through over their objections three years ago, they made sure to tee up the new conservation plan to push the County Board to accept when their PenPlace objections met the same fate.
Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.
It’s a part of Virginia law that mostly pertains to rural areas, crafted to protect farmers and their livestock. But it could also potentially apply to Arlington, should the county allow residents to raise egg-laying hens.
Virginia law section § 3.2-6552 allows for citizens to kill any dog caught in the act of killing or injuring poultry. After the fact, Virginia courts have the power to order animal control officers to kill any dog found to be a “confirmed poultry killer.”
The little-known law may be a deal-breaker for dog-loving Arlington residents, should the county follow a task force recommendation and require potential hen owners to first win the approval of adjacent property holders.
“That could really cause some problems between neighbors,” said Jim Pebley, of the group Backyards, Not Barnyards, which opposes urban chickens in Arlington. “This just adds another reason why relaxing restrictions on raising poultry in residential areas is not a very good idea.”
Asked about the law, supporters of backyard hens didn’t seem concerned, however.
“Thankfully, dogs, people and hens co-exist happily in Baltimore, Richmond, Raleigh, and hundreds of other urban communities across the country that embrace henkeeping,” said Ed Fendley, of the Arlington Egg Project. “We are confident that in Arlington, too, we can walk and chew gum at the same time.”
Other states have similar laws on the books. Two weeks ago in the San Francisco area, two dogs were killed by the owner of chickens the dogs had just killed. The killing of the dogs would be legal under California law, unless the dogs “suffered unduly” and animal cruelty charges can be brought.
The Virginia law is as follows:
It shall be the duty of any animal control officer or other officer who may find a dog in the act of killing or injuring livestock or poultry to kill such dog forthwith whether such dog bears a tag or not. Any person finding a dog committing any of the depredations mentioned in this section shall have the right to kill such dog on sight as shall any owner of livestock or his agent finding a dog chasing livestock on land utilized by the livestock when the circumstances show that such chasing is harmful to the livestock. Any court shall have the power to order the animal control officer or other officer to kill any dog known to be a confirmed livestock or poultry killer, and any dog killing poultry for the third time shall be considered a confirmed poultry killer. The court, through its contempt powers, may compel the owner, custodian, or harborer of the dog to produce the dog.
Any animal control officer who has reason to believe that any dog is killing livestock or poultry shall be empowered to seize such dog solely for the purpose of examining such dog in order to determine whether it committed any of the depredations mentioned herein. Any animal control officer or other person who has reason to believe that any dog is killing livestock, or committing any of the depredations mentioned in this section, shall apply to a magistrate serving the locality wherein the dog may be, who shall issue a warrant requiring the owner or custodian, if known, to appear before a general district court at a time and place named therein, at which time evidence shall be heard. If it shall appear that the dog is a livestock killer, or has committed any of the depredations mentioned in this section, the district court shall order that the dog be: (i) killed immediately by the animal control officer or other officer designated by the court; or (ii) removed to another state that does not border on the Commonwealth and prohibited from returning to the Commonwealth. Any dog ordered removed from the Commonwealth that is later found in the Commonwealth shall be ordered by a court to be killed immediately.
Development Proposed to Replace Courthouse Wendy’s — Developer Carr Properties is planning to propose an office building to be built at 2038 Wilson Blvd in Courthouse, replacing the Wendy’s. The building will be similar to Carr’s planned office building at 2311 Wilson Blvd, which was approved by the Arlington County Board in December. [Washington Post]
Questions Remain As Staff Works on Urban Ag Report — County Board Chairman Walter Tejada is pressing county staff to move faster on a report on urban agriculture. The report is expected to recommend a course of action on the controversial issue of urban hen raising, an issue for which many questions remain. [Sun Gazette]
Free Tropical Plants Today — Ferns, palms, ficus trees and banana plants will be given away for free this afternoon at the Crystal City farmers market. Used to decorate outdoor areas of Crystal City during the summer, the plants would otherwise be composted in advance of winter. [Crystal City BID]
Crystal City BID is an ARLnow.com advertiser. Photo courtesy @BrianWohlert.
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 County’s Urban Agriculture Task Force presented its recommendations to the Arlington County Board on Tuesday night. Chief among them: allow backyard hens for residential egg production, but only in larger yards and with prior approval of neighbors and county inspectors.
The 18-person task force has labored for more than a year to create the recommendations, contained in a 74-page report. Along the way, the task force conducted extensive public outreach online, at farmers markets and at community meetings.
In the end, on the hot-button issue of hen raising, a majority of the task force recommended a course of action unlikely to fully satisfy those on either side of the argument. Backyard hens, the task force said, should be allowed under the following conditions:
- 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
Task force chairman John Vihstadt — who acknowledged that “this is a very emotional issue stirring strong feelings on both sides” — described the recommendation as a reasonable compromise between those who wanted less hen regulation and those who wanted backyard hens to be prohibited. Currently, Arlington residents are technically allowed to raise poultry, but only if the enclosure is a full 100 feet from property lines. Reducing that to 20 feet is intended to allow more residents to raise hens while keeping disruption to neighbors to a minimum.
In a minority report, several task force members argued that 20 feet “would actually allow very few properties in Arlington to keep hens.” The minority report suggested a 7 foot setback, and also suggested allowing residents to keep miniature goats on their properties.
Backyards Not Barnyards, a group formed to opposed backyard hen raising in Arlington, expressed skepticism about the task force’s recommendations. The group questioned which county agency would be responsible for “chicken checking,” and asked whether those who live next to hen coops will be expected to become the “poultry police.”
“What happens if hen-owners don’t follow the guidelines?” the group said in a statement. “Do they get their chicken licenses revoked? Who would revoke them? What happens to the chickens? What’s the fine for too much accumulated chicken poop?”
The County Board is not expected to take action on the the task force’s recommendations until later this fall.
The task force made a number of other recommendations to the Board on the topic of urban agriculture. Those recommendations included:
- 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
Another recommendation was the creation of a year-round covered farmers market, like Eastern Market in D.C. and the Pike Place Market in Seattle. Such a market could also hold cooking and nutrition classes, a task force member said. While intrigued, some Board members seemed skeptical about finding the right location and the funding for such a market.
One suggestion from a task force member drew the ire of County Board member Chris Zimmerman. Task force member Rosemary Ciotti suggested that the county could grant bonus density — larger buildings than zoning otherwise allows for — to developers in exchange for rooftop gardens or contributions to other urban agriculture projects. Zimmerman in turn warned against letting bonus density “be the answer to everything.”
“Density is not an infinitely mint-able currency,” he said. “We have flooded the market with density, and we have a big menu of things [like affordable housing] we’d like to buy with it already. We need to start discouraging people from thinking density is a tool… I’m suggesting that it’s not a tool [for urban agriculture], no matter worthy of a goal it us.”
“We’re probably not in the kind of market where that’s going to be very effective anyway,” Zimmerman added. “We’re past that being a viable option.”
“Your task force took ‘eggstra’ care to ensure that all issues were carefully examined before any chickens come home to roost,” said one PowerPoint slide.
“Hopefully your effort will bear fruit,” said County Board Chair Walter Tejada.
“I look forward to a lot of fertile conversation,” said County Manager Barbara Donnellan.
Donnellan will now work with county staff to turn the task force’s report in to a proposal for the County Board.
“Issues surrounding healthy and sustainable food production, distribution, consumption and disposal impact the lives and livelihoods of Arlingtonians as never before,” task force chairman Vihstadt said in a county press release. “We have tapped the views and expertise of the local community in crafting a range of proposals and look forward to continued citizen engagement on these and other urban agriculture initiatives in the months ahead.”