Suburban Squabble Erupts Over Backyard Chicken Coops

Many major U.S.
and surrounding suburbs have tight regulations, or even
outright bans, on whether residents are allowed to keep small
chicken coops in their backyards. Several of the counties
surrounding Washington D.C. have regulations so stringent that the
practice is
virtually impossible
. As planning boards in two of these
counties—Arlington and Montgomery—have discussed relaxing their
zoning codes to allow small chicken coops, activists on both sides
of the aisle have come forward with petitions to protest or
encourage the change.

The debate has been spurred by
proponents of the
urban agriculture
movement, which emphasizes a “return
to sustainable living
.” Hugh Bartling, an associate professor
of public policy at DePaul University in Chicago,
the movement is one of people who are searching for more
local, fresh foods and are trying to improve their relationship
with the Earth. For many, raising chickens is a core part of the
lifestyle. However, regulations are preventing many of these simple
life aficionados from using their backyards as they like.

In order to help promote urban agriculture, Arlington’s planning
board is considering “loosening rules that require a chicken coop
to be at least 100 feet from a property line,” because it is “a
difficult standard to meet in the densely populated community,”
according to The
Washington Post

In Montgomery County, which currently has similar regulations in
place, officials are also considering whether to allow chicken
coops. Francoise Carrier, the chair of the county Planning Board,
supports the changes. “People who keep chickens clearly love
[them],” she said. “We had a woman who cried because she’s so
attached to her chickens and couldn’t bear the thought of them
being restricted.”

However, not everyone is happy about the proposed changes. The
group Backyards,
Not Barnyards
, has developed a website and petition opposing
the right to raise chickens in Arlington. Their reasons? Well,
there’s the public health explanations: Small chicken coops will
apparently lead to an “increased risk of salmonella exposure” and
“explosion of pest population, including both insects and rats.”
There’s also the dreaded “need to transport unsustainable amount of
chicken feed.” And of course, “The smell! Oh, god, the smell!”

Chicken raisers have touted
the benefits
of allowing chicken coops, which they say range
from the pesticide-free eggs to the educational value for children.
The Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm supporting
the regulatory changes, claims that clean and properly maintained
chicken coops
do not cause a rise in pest populations.

In the meantime, some residents continue to raise chickens
illegally. From the
Washington Post

One Arlington homeowner — who spoke on the condition that only
her first name be used because having hens and a henhouse on her
residential property violates the county’s laws — said she
solicited the approval of her neighbors before adopting hens two
months ago.

from Hit & Run

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