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Richmond council votes to allow backyard hens

Richmond will immediately start permit process

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The Richmond City Council unanimously adopted the final set of regulations that will make it legal to own up to four hens in residential areas, marking the final chapter in a saga for the dozens of backyard-chicken advocates who showed up Monday night to see it adopted.

“This was our civics lesson for the year,” said Kati Hornung, who brought her daughters, Ani, 7, and Zoe, 5, to the meeting. “We’ve been following this issue closely.”

Councilmen Chris A. Hilbert of the 3rd District and Parker C. Agelasto of the 5th District lauded the supporters, many of whom belong to the Chickunz RVA group, for their tenacity.

“It’s amazing how an issue like this can get people involved in what’s going on in City Hall,” Agelasto said.

The zoning change adopted Monday night will extend to chickens the exemption that allows dogs and cats, but not other domestic animals, to be kept on single-family lots even if their enclosures are less than 200 feet from the property line.

Previously, city code barred keeping chickens on less than 1.15 acres of land and restricted them from being kept closer than 500 feet from any house or other neighboring residential building. Zoning regulations said pens for domestic animals had to be 200 feet from all property lines, effectively making it illegal to keep chickens in most residential areas in the city.

The zoning change joins regulations passed last month that create a $60 annual permit fee, charged through the city’s Department of Animal Care and Control, that allows keeping up to four hens and chicken coops, provided they are at least 15 feet from neighboring dwellings. No roosters are permitted.

Permit holders must own the property or get permission from the property owner if they are renters. They must provide at least three square feet of space per chicken and place coops in the rear of their property. Coops “shall consist of four walls and a roof,” and the hens must stay in a fenced area at all times. The coops are not allowed in front yards or street side yards.

Owners are subject to the city animal-cruelty laws, and any neglect or harm to the chickens could result in their immediate seizure by animal control officers, who can inspect chicken coops “at a reasonable hour” without notice, the city says.

City Council President Charles R. Samuels of the 2nd District said he would be “happy to review this paper at a later date to see if any amendments need to be made,” including the number of chickens allowed and other tweaks.

Samuels, who sponsored the legislation, noted that it does not allow slaughtering chickens in backyards.

Chuck Marchant, acting operations manager for animal control, said the city will start the permit process immediately. Applicants will submit to an animal control background check to verify there have been no past instances of cruelty or neglect, then city planning officials will check the appropriateness of the property.

Coops must be ready at the time of application so that animal control officers can inspect them before chickens are purchased. Applications for this year must be filed within the next 90 days.

During a budget hearing earlier in the day, Christie Chipps Peters, the city’s new animal control director, said that, ideally, she would have an additional six months to continue restructuring the department before taking on managing chicken permits and inspections.

“I’m fixing broken systems right now,” Peters said.

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