Fredericksburg to Allow Chickens and Bees
The ordinance requires a permit and restricts a person to two hives and four chickens with setback rules that might still get tweaked when the ordinances come up for a final second reading on Sept. 18.
On the first reading Tuesday night, City Council unanimously decided to allow residents to raise chickens and keep beehives in city limits after more than 700 people signed a petition earlier this year as part of a national movement urging localities to allow this form of urban agriculture.
A final reading on the ordinance will be at council's special meeting on Sept. 18. Fredericksburg was the only city or town in Virginia that had banned beekeeping.
According to the ordinance, a city resident must obtain a permit to keep chickens or beehives. The chicken ordinance limits a person to four chickens and they must be in an enclosed coop or within a fenced area at all times. The coop must be clean, covered and ventilated.
The eggs cannot be sold and no chicken can be slaughtered, according to the ordinance. The setbacks for chickens are that no enclosure shall be located closer than 25 feet to an occupied residential dwelling, 20 feet to a side yard line and 5 feet to a rear lot line. Roosters are prohibited.
The bee ordinance allows for European honey bees and requires the person to have a constant water source near the hive (can be the size of a bird bath). The ordinance allows for only two beehives and there must be a flyway barrier around the beehive to elevate the flight path for the bees. The setbacks for the beehives are at least 10 feet feet from any side property or public sidewalk and no closer than 5 feet to the rear of another property.
The city can revoke the license if there are three complaints against a chicken keeper or a bee keeper in 12 months.
Five people spoke in favor of the two ordinances, but several dozen more were in the audience to support the effort.
City resident Seth Casana said he supports the ordinances, but he has some questions with the setback requirements that seem to favor bees over chickens.
"In terms of the total square footage of the city that would become eligible for urban agricultural, bees will have fewer buffer zones to avoid, and these zones will be smaller in size compared to those that chickens face," he said. "Unless there is some pressing reason to restrict chicken keeping more than bee keeping, it would make sense to authorize zones of equal size for both of these activities."
He also pointed out that because there isn't a front property line setback or a public sidewalk setback for chicken coops, the ordinance essentially could allow for them to be placed at the front edge of a property adjacent to a public sidewalk. He said the beehive ordinance may have some unintended consequences as well.
"This situation would seem to encroach on the city's public space in a manner that the draft attempts to limit in regards to the property's side neighbors," he said. "Similarly, since there is no occupied structure setback for beehives, the current language would allow for them to be placed immediately adjacent to the primary structure of a property. This may have been the intent of the language, perhaps to allow for rooftop hives. But if that really was the intent, then why is there not a similar allowance for chicken coops. And if it was not, then what are the health hazards of living in such close proximity to a bee colony?"
Casana also questioned why back neighbors are afforded less of a setback than side neighbors. He said the council should ensure that no neighbor is unduly burdened by someone keeping chickens or beehives and he thought Madison, Wisc., has a a more consistent ordiannce that would work better in Fredericksburg.
Roy McAfee said City Council should consider changing the ordinance to measure the setbacks from a residence instead of a a property line.
"I can tell you it is a lot easier to measure distance from a house than it is from a lot line because you can't see the lot line very often, but if you can't see the house you've got a real problem," he said.
Bethany Friesner said that in June 2010 a large beehive with about 40,000 bees was removed from the campus of Mary Washington University and it had an impact on the bee population in the city. She said allowing beekeepers to have hives in the city will help rebuild that bee population.
Councilman Fred Howe said he has some concerns about the setbacks and questioned if they should be farther away from adjacent neighbors. City Attorney Kathleen Dooley will consider the comments made during the public hearing and Howe's concerns and come back with possible options at City Council's Sept. 18 meeting.