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Arlington Set To Scramble Restrictions On Backyard Chickens

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Some Arlington residents keep bakyard chickens under penalty of law, but those laws may soon change.
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Some Arlington residents keep bakyard chickens under penalty of law, but those laws may soon change.

If you hear what sounds like chickens clucking in Arlington, someone is breaking the law. But some Arlington residents are willing to take that risk, including the owners of Henny Penny, Florence and Margaret, three hens kept kept behind a 1920s bungalow on a quiet suburban street in North Arlington.

The hens are there in violation of current county regulations, which call for a 100-foot setback from the property line—a requirement that's almost impossible in densely packed Arlington. Advocates for backyard chickens say that while they hope to see the regulations change, but in the meantime some residents have gone rogue.

"A number of people in Arlington have, I think, grown weary of waiting," says Tom Carter of the Arlington Egg Project.

Next week, though, the urban agriculture task force will present recommendations to members of the Arlington County Board to relax the restrictions in a way that would allow people to keep chickens in their backyards.

"Hens are very quiet. They go to sleep at sundown, and they don't make any sound at night and they have a very soft clucking during the day that's very difficult to hear from fifteen or twenty feet away," argues Carter.

Planning Commissioner Rosemary Ciotti says the new rules should be crafted in a way that protects property owners—allowing county officials to shut down operations that are poorly run or a nuisance.

"Zoning enforcement has to be adequate and strong enough to protect neighbors and property rights should there be a problem with anybody keeping hens," she says.

Most members on the task force want to require a majority of neighbors to approve of the chickens, although some members of the task force believe that might not be a good idea.

"We don't traditionally have to have our neighbors consent to have a dog or cats so I think it should be thought of in those terms," adds Ciotti.

When it's all said and done, these chickens could well be laying legal eggs.

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