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Arlington Considers Relaxing Backyard Hen Restrictions

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It may soon be easier for Arlington residents to raise hens in their backyards.
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It may soon be easier for Arlington residents to raise hens in their backyards.

As Carmen Miller pulls the weeds from her plot at the 10th and Barton community garden, she stops for a minute to consider the idea of easing restrictions on backyard hens. In short, she thinks it's a terrible idea. She used to live in an urban area that allowed backyard hens, and it didn't turn out well.

"It wasn't really a great experience because when we saw them get killed, they were running around without their heads," she says.

On the other side of the garden is Billy Grasmeder. He works nearby and was out for a stroll. He thinks it's a great idea. He used to live in Harrisonburg, where many residents have backyard hens.

"I've had backyard hens while I lived there, and we had no trouble," Grasmeder says. "They are pretty clean animals, and they are not loud. You can keep them as pets and they provide eggs for you."

Arlington County Board member Walter Tejada has identified supporting urban agriculture a top priority for the year, and he wants the county to reexamine the current restriction mandating a 100-foot distance between hens and the neighbor's property. Tejada says many local governments have taken action to reduce those kinds of restrictions, which were implemented in an earlier era.

"We are not reinventing the wheel here," says Tejada. "There are places that already have successful urban agriculture initiatives."

Some jurisdictions have a 4-foot space restriction, some have a 10-foot restriction, and others are unlimited. There is one common theme amid all the laws he's examined, says Tejada: no roosters.

"We just found out recently that in some places where they are not allowing roosters, there are visitation hours for the roosters at times of the year," he says. "So there are all these things, and you wonder: could you have an egg without a rooster?"

Regardless of which came first, the policy or the demand, county leaders are set to appoint members of a task force next month. Over the course of the next year, the task force will take a crack at figuring out whether backyard chickens are a good idea in the county.

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