Local resident advocates for backyard chickens in La Plata
La Plata’s town code does not allow poultry on homeowners’ property and one resident isn’t biting her tongue about the issue.
Chelsea Williams, a La Plata resident who lives on Oak Avenue, said she was shocked when she found out that the town code does not allow hens in the town, considering that housing chickens has become increasingly popular in recent years as people have taken an interest in their food’s origins and seek out more local, fresh, humanely-sourced offerings. She believes that Chapter 67-3 of the town code, which currently prohibits the keeping of poultry, should be changed to allow residents to keep small flocks of hens for the purpose of collecting eggs.
The La Plata town code specifically states that no person should keep or maintain a horse, goat, donkey, mule, cow, sheep or poultr y.
In a letter Williams wrote to the Town Council on June 6, she said, “Allowing small flocks of hens to be kept in town would align with the vibrant, locally oriented small town image that La Plata has cultivated through events such as the Farmer’s Market and summer concert series that are supported through our independently owned restaurants and shops. Allowing hens would make living in this town more attractive to prospective residents who are interested in owning chickens, and would allow children to participate in chicken-raising as part of local 4-H chapters. It could even prevent enforcement issues in the future, and residents may choose to ignore the prohibition on chickens.”
At the town council meeting on June 21, Williams told the council that her mother, who lives in Port Tobacco, has hens in her backyard and she also looked forward to having chickens at her La Plata home.
“My kids think they are the greatest thing in the world and the eggs are amazingly delicious,” Williams said. “Backyard hens generate less waste and are quieter than the average dog. A couple of my neighbors said they wanted to have chickens too while others said they weren’t interested but wouldn’t mind if I had it.”
Williams also approached the council with ways to move forward with her request, such as putting a lot of regulations in place in order for residents to have chickens but with many stipulations or by reverting to the county code with some revisions.
“I’ve never raised chickens but I have with my mom and I know the basics. I think that having only hens is the way to go with this,” Williams said.
Williams’ research demonstrated to the council that many cities and municipalities are changing their codes to allow chickens in residents’ backyards. Cities and towns such as Richmond, Va., Annapolis, Rockville and Bel Air allow up to four hens under some circumstances, such as limiting the size of the flock, prohibiting roosters to prevent noise, prohibiting chickens from being kept for human consumption, requiring that feed be kept in air-tight canisters, requiring that coops be kept a certain distance from property lines and homes, requiring that residents have a certain amount of land in order to raise chickens, and putting a permitting process in place, which sometimes has an associated fee.
Councilman Joseph Norris asked whether the hens would be in a fenced area and whether Williams plans to keep the hens on her property only. Williams said she is definitely considering having a coop and/or fence, which meets the council’s requirements to the updated town code.
“If it has to be a certain distance from somebody else’s property line then you’re going to run into an issue there too,” Councilman Keith Back said. “I would think you would have to have some minimum-sized yard to have chickens because then that wouldn’t be right for neighbors or even humane for the baby chicks.”
Mears said the town staff will look at putting a limitation in regards to the number of hens only and having distance requirements pertaining to structure and the property line. The draft will be brought to an upcoming work session to be discussed later.
“The provision in the code is fairly simple,” said Town Manager Daniel Mears. “It says poultry is not allowed so the town staff will develop something, work off of some of these recommendations, then we can craft some language for the council’s consideration.”
After the council work session, the council also adopted resolution 16-10 concerning the Public Works Department’s pre-owned service vehicle purchase of a 2006 Peterbilt dump truck and resolution 16-09 concerning the purchase of the inspection department service vehicle, a 6-C flex fueled Ford half ton pick-up truck with added options.
The next council meeting is scheduled for July 12.