Warren County OKs backyard chickens

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County joined the growing number of communities that allows people to raise chickens in some neighborhoods.

The Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to change the county zoning ordinance by adding backyard chickens as an accessory use permitted by right in the R-1 residential district. The change also adds supplemental regulations to the ordinance, including fowl prohibited from residential lots.

The board held a public hearing on the proposed ordinance change and regulations. Linden resident Bryan Conley said he supports the idea but argued that some of the proposed language was burdensome or unnecessary. Conley pointed out the county doesn’t require a zoning permit to keep other animals or livestock and that the ordinance doesn’t require a management permit except in the case of short-term tourist rentals.

Specifically, the ordinance now allows the keeping of chickens on a residentially zoned lot for non-commercial purposes. The sliding scale restricts the number of chickens to no more than six for lots of a half acre or less; no more than 12 for lots more than a half acre to two acres; and no more than 24 on lots of more than two acres. The ordinance prohibits roosters, guinea fowl, turkeys, peacocks and ducks.

In response to a question from Vice Chairman Archie Fox, Planning Director Taryn Logan said the department would need to check a property lot size when it receives complaints about chickens.

A property owners association’s covenants barring chickens from lots would take precedence over the county’s ordinance, Logan said. But department staff will enforce the county regulations, not the property owners association rules.

The ordinance also includes the following regulations:

• A management plan that addresses all aspects of keeping chickens shall be submitted to the Planning Department and must be approved by the Virginia Cooperative Extension Office agent. A zoning permit shall be required for the use and shall be reviewed on an annual basis. Conditions for approval might be required as part of the permit based on the management plan or on other recommendations by the Virginia Cooperative Extension Office.

• Chickens shall not be allowed to roam free and shall be kept in a stationary or portable pen or coop at all times.

• Renters of property shall obtain written permission from the property owner or manager before they apply for a permit to keep chickens.

• Pens and coops shall be set back at least 20 feet from the dwelling, at least 25 feet from adjacent property lines and located in the side or rear yards.

• Pens and coops shall not be located within 30 feet of private wells, stormwater drainage areas, perennial streams or springs.

• All chicken feed shall be kept in secure containers and in locations as to deter rodents and other animals. Containers shall have tight-fitting lids and be secured to the containers with rope or cords. Containers will be located in a structure not accessible by other animals.

• The sale of goods or services to the chickens is prohibited.

The county already allows chickens on property zoned for agricultural use.

Happy Creek District Supervisor Tony Carter said he supported the proposal but didn’t want to give some residents false hope that they can raise chickens only to find out that the property owners association doesn’t allow the practice.

Shenandoah District Supervisor Thomas Sayre made a motion to approve the ordinance changes with the exception of the requirements for a management plan and zoning permit. Logan explained that the county uses the zoning permits to track uses on properties. The county charges a one-time, $15 fee for the zoning permit, Logan said.

Sayre’s motion failed 4-1. Carter made a motion to approve the ordinance as proposed. Fox said he would support the ordinance changes to allow chickens because doing so would put an undue burden and cost on the county. Carter argued the regulations would do the opposite and that the county needs to have some rules. Carter then added to his motion that the county should review the matter in two years.

The county ordinance does not apply to properties in Front Royal, which recently adopted its own regulations allowing chickens in residential districts.

Also at the meeting, the board:
• Approved a request to participate in the Community Rating System in order to encourage higher standards of community floodplain management that will benefit residents with lower-cost flood insurance rates and meet the goals of the program.
• Approved a request to move forward with Moseley Architects with the schematic design phase of the voter registrar space at the Health and Human Services Complex at the proposed cost of $25,233.
• Approved a request to move forward with Moseley Architects with the conceptual design phase for the replacement Rivermont Volunteer Fire Station at a cost of $19,975.
• Adopted a resolution requesting the General Assembly amend state code to include Warren County in the list of localities that can levy a transient occupancy tax on hotels, boarding houses, travel campgrounds and other facilities offering guest rooms rented out for continuous occupancy for fewer than 30 consecutive days.
• Approved the bylaws for the Lake Front Royal Sanitary District Advisory Committee.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com.