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Spotsy planners OK chicken ownership
Spotsy Planning Commission recommends loosening restrictions on chicken ownership

 Rachel Anderson holds Violet, one of three chickens she and her husband, Brian, keep in their Spotsylvania backyard.
FILE/Peter Cihelka/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 12/7/2012

BY JEFF BRANSCOME

Chickens have many enemies, but government shouldn't be one of them.

That appeal from Spotsylvania resident Scott Cook Wednesday night seemed to resonate with the county's Planning Commission members, who unanimously voted to recommend loosening restrictions on chicken ownership.

Spotsylvania residents would be allowed to have from two to six chickens in backyard coops in most residential areas, based on the proposal. The Planning Commission also voted to advertise a public hearing for a one-time, $56 inspection fee for chicken owners.

The county Board of Supervisors, which has final say, is scheduled to vote on the issue in February.

Currently, chickens in Spotsylvania are permitted only on lots of at least 5 acres in agricultural and rural zoning districts. Many homeowners associations already restrict them, and local ordinances will not override those rules.

Cook and six others spoke Wednesday during a Planning Commission public hearing, and most favored allowing more people to have chickens.

"We're not trying to operate a farm in our backyard," said Brian Anderson, whose wife, Rachel, purchased three chickens in May.

Shortly after buying the hens, the Andersons--who live off Courthouse Road in the Mill Garden subdivision--received a letter from the county telling them to remove the fowl from their property. The Zoning Office had received a call about the hens, but the Andersons said they're not aware of any complaints since then.

Their plight is the reason Supervisor Paul Trampe asked county staff to draft a more-relaxed chicken policy.

The staff had initially recommended that chickens be kept at least 25 feet from property lines. But Rachel Anderson told the Planning Commission that her yard isn't big enough to satisfy that requirement, so the members reduced it to 10 feet.

Under the commission's recommendation, chickens could not roam freely and would also have to be kept at least 35 feet from other homes. Roosters would be prohibited.

But not everybody thinks chickens belong in neighborhoods.

Spotsylvania resident Barbara Schell told the Planning Commission that she's concerned about odor, noise and the effect on property values.

"Let's leave the farm in the country," she said. "Let's not bring it into the city where I have to smell it; I have to put up with it."

Spotsylvania Animal Control Director William Tydings has said allowing more people to have chickens would require more resources--and therefore more money from the county.

For instance, Spotsylvania doesn't have a place to put confiscated chickens. An option would be to contract with a local farm.

The Fredericksburg City Council in August approved a proposal that allows residents to have chickens and bees. Chicken ownership has become popular nationwide as more people look to raise their own food.

Rachel Anderson said the only time her chickens make noise is when they lay eggs.

"My 6-pound dog makes a whole lot more noise when she goes outside," she said.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402
Email: jbranscome@freelancestar.com