WINCHESTER — City youth Isabella Stocco told Winchester City Council last week that she believes everyone should have the experience of keeping laying hens on their property.

But current city ordinances state that only those with more than 2 acres can do so.

Zoning Administrator Frank Hopkins said that means owning chickens within city limits is “effectively not available to very many residents.”

But the city is exploring whether to revise the ordinance.

During its work session Tuesday night, City Council discussed potential changes to its ordinances that governs animals, fowl and livestock. Council voted 5-4 to further those discussions.

“One of the benefits of housing chickens is the ability to observe how a very common ingredient used in kitchens for baking and cooking is produced,” Stocco told the council during during the public comments portion of Tuesday’s meeting. “Other cities in Virginia currently allow chickens. I would love to see Winchester join the list.”

Possible changes to the ordinance could include allowing those with single-family residences to house up to six chickens on their property, but no roosters. There would need to be 4 square feet of space per chicken, sanitary conditions must be maintained and there could be no commercial sales of eggs or poultry. Slaughtering of chickens would not be allowed.

Those interested in keeping chickens would need to submit a sketch showing the area where the chickens would be housed and the type and size of pens. The sketch would also need to show all dimensions and setbacks.

Those updates, among others, are not official and were just presented to council by Hopkins as possible changes.

Many councilors said they agreed with much of the information presented by Hopkins during the work session, but they wanted to know more.

Evan Clark, council vice president and councilor for the Second Ward, said he supported the ordinance moving forward and noted that about 30 or 40 cities in Virginia have changed statutes on the topic in the last five or 10 years with “great success,” including Berryville and Harrisonburg.

The adopted code in Berryville, which came in 2018, allows laying hens on residentially-zoned parcels larger than two-tenths of an acre. As with most ordinances in other localities, only laying hens — grown female chickens kept for their eggs — are allowed in Berryville.

Third Ward Councilor Kim Herbstritt said she supported the ordinance change for Winchester, but she was interested in learning more about free-range options.

“This is designed to have them at least at a minimum space and then to have that fenced in so they’re contained in that space,” Hopkins said in response. “How large you make your fence to contain them in a coop area, there’s only a minimum specified here. I will say from a practical standpoint of someone who’s enforced something like this before, you do certainly get calls where chickens are running loose. So, that was the interest in having some sort of penning of them.”

Third Ward Councilor Corey Sullivan, Fourth Ward Councilor John Willingham and Fourth Ward Councilor Judy McKiernan said they wanted more information on the topic, including what kinds of issues could arise, what issues other localities have experienced and suggested more studies be done before the next discussion.

“There’s really no doubt that 95, 97 or 98% of people who decided to get a chicken or chickens could keep it and do a good job,” Sullivan said. “But the problem we have from a local government standpoint is the 2 or 3% of people that can’t, and what do we do in those situations and what is the plan and how much stress is that going to put on an already stressed Animal Control office.”

A timetable for further discussion hasn’t been set, but Willingham suggested a six-month or yearlong review of some of the changes before adoption of any changes.

Councilors Clark, Herbstritt, Willingham, Veach and McKiernan were the aye votes. Councilors Bill Wiley, John Hill and Sullivan and Mayor John David Smith were the nay votes.

— Contact Matt Welch at mwelch@winchesterstar.com

(17) comments

Bryan.the.Nuri

The problem won't be the hobbyist or parent with a pair of chickens for biology "lessons:. The issue will be the people who try making a brood in the yard, even without a rooster. Regulate the numbers and require periodic checks on the refuse.

Give them an inch...

BillboBaggins

I think it would be fine but only hens as roosters are aggressive and loud. Folks should be prepared for loss due to skunks, weasels, foxes, dogs and cats. Everyone liked chicken.

BenWeber

What's everyone clucking about? Evan Clark has been asking for this even since I was on Council in 2003. This isn't really new news....but then again it isn't fake news either.

shinyhappypeople

👏🏼Nice

shinyhappypeople

Speaking of chickens, not a peep today and no comments from the Q-nut gallery on all things Trump. And i was SO hoping to hear about his proven successes, his love of America, and his business acumen. I wonder where everyone is???? If i were a betting man, i’d put $750 on the “failing” NYTimes and get your juice glasses ready....because it looks like “the enemy of the people” are about to squeeze the orange. Fresh, juicy juice anyone???

Conservative

Off topic, shiny. But nice try.

Spock Here

Shiny, I think they got called back to the motherrussia ship, to discuss the group response. They are torn between "so what", "fake socialist news", and "but what about" Then no doubt they'll be busy screaming voter fraud and getting together a gofundme for the "family," who'll have bills to pay, Melania's pre nup for example. Cluck cluck cluck

john brown

they are awfully uiet about tRump stealing from the government via his fraudulent tax returns.. the so called billionaire is a con man and a thief

Conservative

No. If you want to raise animals, do it on a farm or in an are that is zoned for that, not in town or city limits. This isn't a t*rd world country like china.

john brown

So you can have all of the guns you like but chickens, that;s another story

what happened to the freedom you folks on the right always clamor about?

let the kids have their hens

Conservative

So, by your logic, then horses and cows and sheep and llamas and alpacas and donkeys and goats should also be allowed in the town or city limits. Let's see, SARs and all of the other diseases that chickens carry. They are more suited for a farm environment. Good Lord, are you that dense? Zoning laws.

john brown

so your logic, folks hould be allowed to purchase tanks and nuclear weapons, see how that's played

they are asking for a couple of egg producing birds, let them have them

and everyone on this forum knows the dense miserable "contributors" like you, "get off my grass kids" (lol)

Conservative

First, they ask for egg producing birds. Then they ask for lawn maintenance goats. Then it moves up to cows milk producing cows. You're comparing apples and oranges. You can't legally shoot a gun in the town/city limits, why do you want to allow farm animals in town/city limits? Farms are for that, not high density populated areas.[rolleyes]

Bernie Mac

Help me out here. Which Constitutional Amendment guarantees the right of the people to keep chickens in their yard? I forget.

john brown

what well regulated militia are you in

Doc Samson

@Bernie - Attempting to discuss the Constitution with a Leftist is considered sadism. Don't do that to yourself. [lol]

Bryan.the.Nuri

A "t*rd* world? what does that mean?

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