The Herndon Town Council voted 6-1 Tuesday night to allow an initiating resolution exploring the idea of allowing residents to keep up to four chickens or waterfowl as pets in their backyards to move forward to the Planning Commission for study.
In 2003, the Town Council voted to allow one chicken or waterfowl, which remains the current law.
The proposed zoning ordinance text amendment (ZOTA) will now be studied and researched by the Planning Commission members, who will then make an official recommendation to the Town Council to either approve or disapprove. The Council will hear the recommendation from the Planning Commission at a future date, and hold a public hearing to gather feedback from citizens before their final vote.
The proposed ZOTA as it stands currently includes the following guidelines:
- Residents on lots of 10,000 square feet or more would be allowed to keep up to four female chickens or waterfowl (such as a pet duck).
- Selling of any dairy products such as eggs would be prohibited onsite, but allowed off-site.
- Any enclosed or accessory structure (such as a coop or cage) cannot be located closer than 10 feet from any property line.
- The animals can only be kept in the rear yard of the home, which must have a fence to keep the fowl in. The fence must meet standards and be at least six feet high. No structures such as coops or cages that are taller than 3 feet can be located closer than 5 feet from the fence.
- Any waste from the animals must be handled properly "so as not to create odor, attract vermin or create a nuisance to residents or occupants of surrounding properties."
As a zoning ordinance, the right to keep the animals would be subject to the resident obtaining a permit, and inspections can be conducted to ensure compliance.
Councilmember Dave Kirby voted against allowing the proposal to move forward.
"It's no surprise I'm adamantly opposed to chickens in the Town of Herndon," Kirby said. "I think a 10,000-square-foot lot is much, much, too small."
Kirby pointed out that Fairfax County law requires a minimum of two acres, and suggested that the residents who are asking for this ZOTA might want to find space in the county if they wish to keep several chickens or other livestock animals.
Councilmember Charlie Waddell said he was concerned about the animals' welfare.
"My initial reaction is that livestock in an urban area is inappropriate," he said, explaining that he also felt a lot of that size was too small, and keeping livestock in such an enclosed space is "tantamount to cruelty to animals."
Mayor Merkel and the other councilmembers—many of whom voted against the idea of keeping miniature goats as pets just last month—said that, while many of them were already leaning toward voting against this proposed ZOTA and had serious concerns, they were in favor of at least allowing the Planning Commission to study the idea.
Vice Mayor Connie Hutchison said one of her main concerns was over the inclusion of the word "waterfowl" in the ZOTA, which could include animals such as ducks, geese or swans, since the guidelines explicitly require the animals to be contained and not wander freely.
"It's pretty impossible to contain waterfowl since they can fly," she pointed out.
Town Attorney Richard Kaufman said he would make a note asking the Planning Commission to explore that concern, and encouraged the Council to allow it to move forward for further study anyway.
Councilmember Melissa Jonas said many residents who had written in to or spoken before the Council asking them to explore the idea convinced her to at least move it forward.
"I think we owe it to their interests to send it to the Planning Commission," she said.
Councilmember Grace Han Wolf echoed Jonas, adding that her initial feeling is to deny allowing chickens, but saying she agreed that the Council owed it to the large number of residents in favor to send it on and vet the research.
Wolf did express concerns over chickens in backyards bothering neighbors, and over the fact that no local veterinarians within a 45-minute drive will treat chickens because they are considered livestock.
Mayor Merkel said one of her biggest concerns was over the number of staff hours it would take the Town to inspect each home applying for a permit to have chickens, if the ZOTA passed.
"I would much rather our Town staff be working on other important issues such as the development of our downtown, or planning for our Metro station, or our streetscapes, rather than on chickens," she said.
Councilmember Sheila Olem was the one councilmember who appeared staunchly in favor of chickens.
"Chickens were not meant to be alone," she said, meaning she favored the idea of increasing the number of allowed chickens from the current one, to the proposed four, pointing out that chickens are "social" animals meant to be in flocks.
In the end, Kirby was the sole councilmember who voted against moving the proposal forward, and Mayor Merkel, Wolf, Waddell, Hutchison, Olem and Jonas voted in favor of sending it to the Planning Commission.
What do you think of the Town Council's decision to allow the proposal to move forward for study? Tell us in the comments.
FOLLOW HERNDON PATCH FOR THE LATEST NEWS AND EVENTS!Facebook | Twitter | Daily & Breaking News E-mail Updates