By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer
The Greene County Planning Commission began their January, 2016 meeting electing officers with Jay Willer and Vic Schaff maintaining their Chairman and Vice-Chairman positions respectively. There were only four commissioners for this meeting as Eva Young’s term expired at the end of 2015 and the Board of Supervisors has yet to appoint a replacement.
The only public hearing for the Planning Commission in January was a revision to a zoning ordinance – how many rabbits should be allowed in Residential zoning. Last April this issue was discussed and was deferred to allow staff to do research on such issues as set back requirements, the number of chickens to allow, etc. Currently no chickens are allowed in R-1 zones.
There has been a growing interest in keeping chickens in the residential, R-1, zoning district. The proposed ordinance is to allow residents to own chickens in residential areas but also balance their neighbors rights. Bart Svoboda, Greene’s Zoning Administrator/Planning Director, presented OR#15-003 stating that staff suggests a sliding scale of the quantity of chickens allowed based upon the lot size.
Area in square feet Area in acreage # of hens
10,000 0.23 2
15,000 0.34 3
20,000 0.46 4
25,000 0.57 5
30,000 0.69 6
35,000 0.80 7
40,000 0.92 8
45,000 1.03 9
50,000 1.15 10
55,000 1.26 11
60,000 1.38 12
65,000 1.49 13
70,000 1.61 14
75,000 1.72 15
80,000 1.84 16
85,000 1.95 17
90,000 2.07 18
95,000 2.18 19
100,000 2.30 20
The hearing was then opened for public comment with Keith Bourne being the only speaker. Mr. Bourne stated that he lives in an Ag District but he supports urban agriculture such as this but suggests researching how other counties control the slaughter of these animals and he believes this should be done inside rather than outside for neighbors to view.
The hearing then shifted to discussion within the commission. Chairman Willer felt the sliding scale of number of chickens vs. the size of the lot would be hard to enforce. Since the intent is to allow chickens for families to have as pets instead of raising them to sell dozen of eggs at the farmers market he suggested a more simple 2 step scale of allowing 5 for less than .5 acre and up to 10 maximum for property greater that .5 acre. Secondly, he addressed setbacks to minimize the potential noise and smell issues with the following recommendations:
25 foot setback from property lines
50 foot setback from occupied buildings
25 foot setback from wells
50 foot setback from water sources (other than wells) including litter storage
Commissioner Frank Morris suggested raising the 5 chickens for .5 acres or less to 6 since Southern States sells them at a minimum quantity of 6. Svoboda said he would research this and report back to the commission. Commissioner Schaff said he liked 5/10 thresholds as it would much easier to enforce but agreed that he would be ok with the 6 quantity if that is the minimum being sold.
This lead to a discussion of what department would enforce the ordinance. Mr. Svoboda stated he would ask the Sheriff’s Dept. how to enforce. Commissioner McCloskey also said he supported the 5/10 limits and had a concern about allowing up to 20 chickens.
Commissioner Morris raised an issue related to the 25 feet setback – his concern is that many lots have trees at the back of their property which would be a good place to provide shade for the chickens but may not be 25 feet from their property line. This lead to a discussion of reducing the setback requirement as some developments in R-1 may not have enough space to allow the 25 feet setback. Commissioner Schaff said that if a lot can’t provide the 25 feet setback then the property should not be allowed to have chickens.
As for the slaughtering question that Mr. Bourne brought up, the commissioners decided to not include this in the ordinance and would address the issue if it becomes a problem. It was agreed to vote on the 25 foot setback issue separately, since that seemed to be the only point of contention. This change passed 3-1 with Commissioner Morris voting against it. The other setback suggestions and the limitation of 6 for under .5 acres and a maximum of 10 for greater than .5 acre was approved, 4-0.
Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization. The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you. To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org