Chickens may rule roost across county
Rosemarie Jones decided to keep her $900 chicken coop when she moved to the gated Isle of Laurels subdivision in Spotsylvania County about 2 years ago.
But the coop sat empty, as Spotsylvania—not to mention the neighborhood’s homeowners association—prohibited backyard chickens.
“My dream and my prayer was that someday I’d be allowed to have chickens again,” said Jones, 63, who had as many as 48 chickens when she lived in Stafford County.
That prayer was partially answered early last year, when the Board of Supervisors approved a proposal allowing a person to have from two to six backyard chickens. The ordinance permits the pet hens in just four of the county’s seven voting districts, including the Livingston District where Jones resides.
So Jones asked her HOA if she could have chickens on her 4-acre property in light of the county’s decision. The HOA granted her request less than a month later, with the then-president dubbing her a “groundbreaker.”
“They stood behind me 100 percent, and that’s kind of rare because, you know, some HOAs are very strict on that,” said Jones, who lives with her husband Jim in the subdivision off Brock Road near Court House Battlefield.
Spotsylvania has issued eight permits for backyard chickens since the ordinance was approved in February 2013. That includes a permit for Jones last September.
Now, in response to an advisory opinion from former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, Spotsylvania may allow the hens countywide.
Cuccinelli, who issued the opinion last September at the request of County Attorney James Benkahla, said the county overstepped its bounds by permitting the chickens in some voting districts but prohibiting them in others. The ordinance, he wrote, treats people within the same zoning district differently.
County staff recently drafted a revised ordinance that would legalize backyard chickens regardless of the voting district.
The Planning Commission was scheduled to vote on the measure Wednesday evening but tabled its decision until Feb. 5. The Planning Commission makes recommendations to the Board of Supervisors.
Commissioner Mary Lee Carter, who requested the delay, wanted to consider limiting the chickens on lots of less than an acre in more densely populated zoning districts.
“I want citizens to have their domestic hens wherever they will be welcome, but then again we have to always remember that we have the other side” that may not want nearby chickens, said Carter, whose populous Lee Hill District currently outlaws backyard chickens.
The chickens are also banned in the Battlefield and Berkeley districts. Benjamin Pitts, Emmitt Marshall and Gary Skinner—the supervisors who represented those districts at the time of the ordinance’s passage—opposed the pet chickens.
Skinner, who represents the Lee Hill District, is the only one of them who still holds a seat on the Board of Supervisors. Pitts and Marshall stepped down after their terms expired at the end of 2013.
Supervisor Chris Yakabouski, who succeeded Pitts on the Battlefield District seat, said he doesn’t have any problems with pet chickens—so long as they are not a nuisance to others.
“If you want to have a small hen house and your neighbors don’t care, why should it be a governmental issue?” he said. The county hasn’t received any complaints about the legal chicken owners, though it was made aware of a person with illegal chickens in the Lee Hill District.
Meanwhile, Jones said she is delighted by the proposal to relax chicken ownership even more. “I think that people don’t realize the beauty of chickens and how much joy they bring to a person,” said Jones, who touted the health benefits of home-grown eggs.
She currently has two Silkie chickens in a small coop by a pool in her backyard. She found the pets—which her grandchildren named Gracie Peanut and Dixie—on Craigslist and purchased them for $10 each.
Jones plans to buy four more chickens after her husband completes improvements to the larger coop that the couple brought with them from their previous home in Stafford.
Jim Jones has already replaced the coop’s roof, insulated the 4-by-6-foot structure and installed an electronic door that will automatically open at dawn and close at night. He plans to paint it the same color as their home.
And a chicken run will be connected to the coop, which overlooks a pond.
“This is going to be the Hilton,” Rosemarie Jones says with a smile.
She said a neighbor has even offered to look after the chickens when she’s on vacation.
Jones grew up in West Virginia and said her father would butcher a chicken for dinner every Sunday. That won’t happen to her chickens, whom she calls her “babies.”
“They’re my pets.”
Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402
Spotsylvania County has set several requirements for backyard chicken ownership. Residents must submit an application to the Zoning Department with a $30 inspection fee. The chickens must be kept in backyard coops and runs at least 35 feet from adjacent homes and at least 10 feet from property lines. Roosters are prohibited.
Before the ordinance was passed, only people who lived on agricultural and rural lots of at least five acres could have chickens. Those property owners do not have to apply for a permit.