Front Royal officials plan to revisit and reconsider the rules allowing residents to keep chickens and other animals.
The Town Council discussed the topic at a work session on Thursday. Councilman E. Scott Lloyd broached the idea at a previous work session to look at whether or not the town should consider increasing the number of chickens residents can keep and should the discussion topic include other animals.
The Town Council enacted the ordinance about four years ago.
Planning Director Lauren Kopishke told council that her department has a backlog of inspections on residences permitted to keep chickens. The department has 38 permits on file for Urban Agriculture, Kopishke said. The department has not had an inspection in months, she added.
“At this point in time, we don’t have an accurate number of how many farm animals, chickens, livestock, anything that we have in town,” Kopishke said.
Lloyd said the town should consider whether annual inspections are necessary, given the backlog especially if the department doesn’t receive complaints about chickens. He suggested that council members consider whether or not the regulations put a heavy burden on staff. Lloyd compared the keeping of chickens to home gardens but also acknowledged that animals can create nuisances.
The Zoning Ordinance allows residents to keep chickens or rabbits provided they receive an Urban Agriculture permit, Kopishke explained. The applicant also must submit a management plan for the keeping of the animals. The Virginia Cooperative Extension then reviews the plans to determine if the rabbits or chickens will receive proper care under the plans. If the plan is approved, the town department issues the permit. Town code enforcement officials inspect the chicken coops or rabbit hutches once a year to make sure the animals are not creating a nuisance, Kopishke said.
“The problems with these management plans is they’re very subjective,” Kopiske said. “There’s no standardization and people will just kind of write down on paper hey, we’re gonna have six chickens and we’re gonna buy this coop from Rural King.”
Kopishke noted that Rural King sells only six chickens at one time. She added that Arizona is the only state that allows a resident to keep more than six chickens on less than one acre. Some jurisdictions regulate the size of the chicken coops. They also regulate how far coops and run areas sit back from property lines.
The town also has received complaints in the past week about residents keeping sheep on their property.
“There’s a person keeping sheep in town and they stated they were their pets and that they were emotional-therapy sheep,” Kopishke said, which prompted some members to laugh and make bleating noises.
Councilman Joseph E. McFadden compared the situation to people with many cats or dogs.
“It’s like what about chickens that get old and you just don’t want to kill them ‘cause your kids love them but they’re not giving you any more eggs,” McFadden said. “Are we heading in that direction? I’m not speaking from personal experience.”
The Urban Agriculture permit prohibits a person from selling chickens or eggs. Neighbors may trade chickens or eggs, Kopishke said. The town also prohibits an owner from slaughtering animals, she added.
The town regulations define livestock as goats, sheep, cows, pigs and other animals. The town prohibits residents from keeping pigs on their property. McFadden raised a concern that the town is being held to pet standards for livestock. Then livestock are being held to other standards, McFadden said.
Kopishke admitted that the town’s ordinance isn’t clear.
The town also regulates beekeeping, McFadden noted. But restrictions are important especially with regards to people with allergies to bees and high-density areas in town, Kopishke said.
Chickens and other animals can constitute a nuisance, especially with the smell or noise, Kopishke said.
“When you start affecting your neighbor and you start potentially lowering their property value or you have the noise itself - it becomes an issue and at what point is your keeping chickens more important than your neighbors being able to go outside,” Kopishke said.
Vice Mayor Lori A. Cockrell voiced concerns about the lack of manpower to enforce the regulations.
If council members agree to revise the Town Code pertaining to chickens, the proposed change to the Zoning Ordinance would appear on the Oct. 25 meeting agenda for possible referral to the Planning Commission. The town requires that the Planning Commission provide its recommendation for proposed ordinance changes.