Arlington, VA

The Right Note: On the Radar

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.

Mark KellyThe 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.

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Chicken (file photo)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.

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Morning Notes

Sunset on Oct. 7, 2013 (photo courtesy @BrianWohlert)

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.

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Chicken (file photo)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.

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Members of the Urban Agriculture Task ForceArlington 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.

County Board member Jay Fisette listening to a report from the Urban Agriculture Task ForceIn 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.

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Illustration from the Backyards, Not Barnyards websiteA new group has been formed to oppose backyard hens in Arlington.

Backyards, Not Barnyards,” as the group is called, is intended to be the answer to the Arlington Egg Project, which is strongly advocating for a change in zoning rules that would allow Arlington residents to raise egg-laying hens in their backyards.

Arlington County’s Urban Agriculture Task Force, established in 2012, is expected to make a set of recommendations to the County Board on Tuesday, June 11, including whether or not to allow backyard hen raising. Advocates for the change say that backyard hens are “a critical part of sustainable, small-scale home agriculture,” producing “eggs that are both superior in taste and nutrition” and “excellent fertilizer for your home garden and lawn.”

Jim Pebley, a former president of the Waycroft-Woodlawn Civic Association, helped to form Backyards, Not Barnyards with Darnell Carpenter, a former president of the Langston Brown Civic Association. Pebley says both he and Carpenter had unpleasant prior experiences with backyard chickens. They’re now hoping to attract “some grassroots opposition to this silliness.”

Backyard egg production, according the group, negatively impacts neighbors. Hens produce “excess animal waste runoff,” attract pests like insects and rats, and actually require more energy and resources than simply buying organic, sustainably-produced eggs at a local farmers market. Plus, they say, backyard hens are smelly and noisy.

The Arlington Egg Project has countered those points on its website, saying that hens are hygienic and won’t disturb neighbors.

Backyards, Not Barnyards also raises questions about regulation. If the zoning change only allows smaller-scale egg production, “Who would be in charge of counting [the chickens]?” the group asks.

Pebley has previously failed to get the Arlington County Civic Federation to adopt a resolution opposing backyard chickens, though he says he’s still trying to get the resolution through. With the new anti-chicken group, he’s hoping to gather online petition signatures to help sway the Arlington County Board before it considers any chicken-related zoning changes.

Backyards, Not Barnyards will be holding an organizational meeting tonight (Wednesday) at 7:00 p.m. at the Langston Brown Community Center (2121 N. Culpeper Street). Snacks — including deviled eggs — will be served.

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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.

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Morning Notes

Moran Marks Anniversary of Va. Tech Massacre — Rep. Jim Moran (D) marked the fifth anniversary of the shooting massacre at Virginia Tech yesterday by calling on Congress to improve gun control laws. “When there are nearly enough guns in the U.S. for every man, woman and child, firearms will find their way into the wrong hands,” Moran said. “Criminals, terrorists and the dangerously mentally ill have no business owning deadly weapons.” A student shot and killed 32 people on the Virginia Tech campus on April 16, 2007.

Concern About Chicken Doo-Doo — Some residents are concerned that, if enacted, a proposal to allow small-scale backyard hen raising in Arlington would result in extra water pollution. A George Mason University professor says chicken waste from backyard hens in Arlington would ultimately make it into the already environmentally-sensitive Chesapeake Bay. [WAMU]

‘God of Carnage’ Opens at Signature Theatre — The Tony Award-winning play God of Carnage is now showing at Signature Theatre in Shirlington. [Playbill]

Hearing About School Board Appointment — A public hearing will be held tonight to discuss the appointment of an interim School Board member to replace now-County Board member Libby Garvey. Sixteen residents have declared themselves interested in the position. [Sun Gazette]

Man Dies After Heart Attack at Pentagon StationAdded at 9:15 a.m. — A 51-year-old Alexandria man died yesterday afternoon after suffering a heart attack at the Pentagon Metro station. Passengers attempted to revive the man, a witness told ARLnow.com, but he was later pronounced dead at a local hospital. [Washington Post]

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Proponents of legalizing backyard chicken keeping in Arlington are hosting some events to advance their case.

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.

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Morning Notes

Backyard Chicken Debate Rages On — Egg-laying hens aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, according to an Arlington resident whose neighbor had an illegal chicken coop. “I can tell you that I thought we had excessive flies, we had rodents; the chickens do make noise and there is a smell,” Darryl Hobbs told WUSA9 at a community discussion about backyard chicken raising last night. Chicken supporters dispute claims that their coops are unsanitary, and say that egg-laying hens produce a steady stream of healthy, tasty and sustainable food. [WUSA 9]

Shoplifting Suspect Flees Down Metro Tracks — Metro trains were temporarily shut down near the Pentagon City station Tuesday night after a shoplifting suspect jumped on the tracks in an attempt to get away. The man, who’s accused of shoplifting from the Nordstom’s in Pentagon City, was eventually caught by Metro Transit Police. [NBC Washington]

Hope Wants Insurance Exchange — Arlington’s Del. Patrick Hope (D) is one of the Democratic lawmakers hoping to pass a law to create a state-run health insurance exchange during the new General Assembly session in Richmond. All states are to have an insurance exchange in place by the end of 2013 under the Obama health care plan. “It will allow small businesses and individuals the opportunity to leverage similar to or even greater resources than that of large employers, using that clout to drive better pricing, choices and quality,” Hope said. [Roanoke Times]

Yoga, Pilates, Spinning in ClarendonMind the Mat, a new yoga and Pilates studio, opened in Clarendon this week. The studio, at 3300B Fairfax Drive, is offering free classes this week. Meanwhile Revolve, an indoor cycling studio that opened at 1025 N. Fillmore Street in Clarendon late last year, is holding its official grand opening celebration tonight from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Correction to Item Yesterday — A Morning Notes item yesterday erroneously stated that County Board member Walter Tejada was seeking the creation of a proposed Office of Latino Affairs in Arlington. In fact it’s BU-GATA, a tenants-rights organization, that is proposing the office’s creation. Tejada told ARLnow.com that he supports improving services for Latino residents, but doesn’t think the creation of a separate county department is necessarily the best way to go about it. “I don’t think it’s the thing to do,” he said. ARLnow.com regrets the error.

Flickr pool photo by Chris Rief

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Morning Notes

Group to Discuss Backyard Chickens — Arlington’s Committee of 100 will take up the issue of backyard chicken raising at its meeting tonight. Among the speakers are an official from Albemarle County, where urban chicken keeping is allowed; the founder of the Arlington Egg Project, which is pushing the county to change its restrictive poultry ordinance; and an Arlington resident who lives next door to a neighbor who raises chickens. [Committee of 100]

‘Office of Latino Affairs’ On the Back BurnerCorrected at 4:30 p.m. — A proposal to create an Office of Latino Affairs in Arlington is still on the back burner, the Sun Gazette reports. An earlier version of this item erroneously stated that County Board member Walter Tejada supports the creation of the office, and neglected to link to the Sun Gazette article. Tejada tells ARLnow.com that he supports improving services for Latino residents, but doesn’t think the creation of a separate county department is necessarily the best way to go about it. “I don’t think it’s the thing to do,” he said. [Sun Gazette]

Candidates Weigh in On Issues on GGW — Three (out of five) candidates for County Board weighed in on issues from the Columbia Pike streetcar to the Crystal City sector plan via the website Greater Greater Washington. Melissa Bondi, Libby Garvey and Kim Klingler responded to a candidate questionnaire issued by the site. [Greater Greater Washington]

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