Council will review proposal to allow chickens in city

Published 2:32 pm Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Washington’s City Council wants time to analyze a proposed amendment to the city code that would allow city residents to keep certain “farm” animals inside the city limits.

After a public hearing during which one person voiced concerns with the proposed amendment and one person spoke in favor of it, the council, which received copies of the proposed amendment last Wednesday, decided it wants to closely examine the proposal and find out how other cities address residents having farm animals. The council also made it clear it wants to first focus on the part of the proposal dealing with chickens (and other fowl such as ducks and geese) before turning its attention to farm animals such as horses.

Councilman Doug Mercer said some language in the proposed amendment is vague and in need of being “tightened up.” He said lots of work needs to be done with the proposed amendment before it comes before the council again. That likely would happen at the council’s first meeting in January 2018.

John Wehrenberg, developer of the Tree Shade residential development, urged the council to carefully consider allowing farm animals inside the city. The majority of the Tree Shade residents he talked with, he said, oppose the proposed amendment. Wehrenberg said chickens would attract predators such as foxes and bobcats, which could pose a threat to pets if the predators were unable to get to the chickens. He also questioned the health and environmental effects chickens in coops would produce.

“You can’t potty train chickens,” Wehrenberg said, asking whether a proposed requirement that chicken waste be moved off-site could result in it being placed in a nearby vacant lot or somewhere else.

As for backyard chickens affecting property values, that’s somewhat unclear, he said, adding “that’s a perception thing more than anything else.”

Emma Wood, noting it has been 24 years since the city’s animal-related ordinances had been revised, said, “It’s time for an update.” Wood said cities such as Greenville, Raleigh and Charlotte allow backyard chickens and Washington should join them.

Wood said eggs laid by backyard chickens for human consumption are better than eggs laid by hens in a commercial setting. She noted the proposed amendment would allow only hens and not roosters, which she supports because roosters are noisier than hens.

Under recommended changes to the city’s animal regulations, a city resident could keep up to 10 “domestic female chickens on one lot, but roosters would not be allowed. The chickens could not run at large, but would have to be kept in a “suitable” chicken house or coop, which would have to be cleaned at least twice a week. Waste material from the coop must be hauled away or disposed of on-site in a manner that does not cause a bad odor and attract flies, according to the proposed amendment.

The Washington Planning Board recommends the council adopt the proposed changes.

Anyone keeping domestic fowl (chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks and the like) in the city would be required to obtain a permit from the city, with that permit renewed annually. Permits may be revoked if conditions of the permit and/or the zoning rules are violated.

The recommended changes would allow city residents to keep horses and other animals under specific conditions that include providing adequate housing, pens and enclosures. Horses would have to be kept at least 200 feet from the nearest residence of business. The number of horses shall not exceed one per acre with a maximum of two, according to the proposed rules.

The proposed changes also define “farm” animals and spell out other conditions and restrictions related to keeping such animals in the city.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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