Backyard Chickens Cross Over Into Law

A young girl in a chicken costume, hoisted up by her father, whispered into the microphone at the top of the podium.

It was hard to hear Cosette Rhamey, and after she spoke, she scurried away.

“If you didn’t catch that, it was ‘Chickens, please,’” her father, Patrick Rhamey, said.

This was the first of several public comments made by children in favor of chickens at the Lexington City Council meeting last Thursday. At the end of the hearing, the children and many others got their wish: Council voted 5-1 in favor of the proposed ordinance for the keeping of backyard chickens.

Council member Marilyn Alexander was the one who was opposed, sympathizing with concerns from neighbors in the Diamond Hill area, who remembered the chicken discussions in years past and questioned why they needed to be revisited again.

“I wonder where our law went after we passed it,” Leona Kyle asked, referring to those previous votes that decided against allowing the keeping of backyard chickens. “And I don’t care what you do, you can spread ammonia or whatever, that chicken poop is going to smell through; I’ve lived through it.”

Resident Bea Johnson also spoke again, handing over still more signatures from those who were not in favor of backyard chickens.

“I am totally against chickens,” Johnson reiterated. “The only chicken I like is fried.”

Johnson also doubted that the city would respond promptly to complaints about chicken odors, for instance. Dawn Johnson agreed.

“Everybody talks about what they want to do on their property, that’s fine, but you can’t enclose your property where it’s not going to afflict me,” Johnson said. “You can’t promise me that I won’t be on my patio having hot dogs and hamburgers and get a whiff of chicken coming through the air.”

These doubts were stacked up against statements about property rights and pleas from children.

Gabe Leisure, for instance, felt that property owners should be allowed to use their property to help feed themselves.

Anne Huebner reminded everyone that Lexington’s chicken ordinance is far more restrictive than Lynchburg’s or Charlottesville’s.

“And I see no lot size or residential configuration in Lexington that is in any way unusual or that hasn’t been addressed before,” she said.

George Pryde said that this ordinance actually puts a lot of power in the hands of residents filing complaints against chicken owners. While those who are “anti-chicken” might take comfort in this, Pryde was troubled.

“There’s no procedure to contest the complaints, no umpire to deal with,” he said. “I think that should give a lot of pause to those who may be interested in chickens.”

Later, Maron Osbourne, a younger resident, also took to the podium.

“I want to have company and fresh eggs,” she said.

Eliana Osbourne spoke after her.

“I love animals. I have 13 pets,” she said. “I want chickens because I would like to have someone to play with outside and to keep me busy. I love having pets to play with.”

Amber Poole said that her generation will be the one to have backyard chickens.

“It’s going to be for our kids,” Poole elaborated, “and we are the heart and soul of Lexington at this point; we are your next generation of business owners, and we’re raising the next generation of kids that will hopefully stay and choose Lexington.”

Ultimately, Council members were confident that the ordinance was restrictive enough to protect property owners from nuisances associated with chickens.

Council member Chuck Smith promptly made a motion to approve the ordinance.

“To get the ball rolling,” he said. His motion was quickly seconded by Michelle Hentz.

Mayor Friedman called for a vote, and all voted in support of the ordinance except for Alexander, who ultimately voted “Nay” after addressing the public.

“There have been some comments made out in the community about this two-week delay and, that it wasn’t necessary or what have you,” she said. “We took only two more weeks to vet options for the benefit of our fellow neighbors who made their voices known that did not want chickens.

“I just want to ensure that those citizens feel like they were heard and that their feelings were just as seriously considered, literally down to the wire today, so under that circumstance I vote ‘Nay,’” Alexander said.

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