A chicken in every yard? No, but maybe a few

Local,Virginia,Ben Giles
A group of Arlington County residents wants the right to scramble, fry or poach eggs laid in their very own backyards.

And they're now trying to convince county officials to revise a zoning code that prohibits most homeowners from raising hens.

There are actually a handful of properties in the mostly urbanized county that are allowed to raise hens in their yards, according to Tycie Horsley, a co-founder of the Arlington Egg Project. But advocates want to relax the current rules to allow more residents to keep chickens in coops or pens so they can harvest their own eggs.

Arlington County Zoning Administrator Melinda Artman said most homes in the county wouldn't qualify to keep a chicken coop.

The current law requires houses to have an acre-sized yard, about enough room so that the chickens would be at least 100 feet from a street or property lines to reduce the noise -- a particular problem with roosters -- and smell for neighbors, Artman said.

"There's a reason that chicken are called fowl," Artman said. "The 100 foot limitation is not an unusual one."

But chicken advocates look at chicken coops and see a healthier future.

"This is an outgrowth of the local foods movement," said Kirsten Buhls, a coordinator with the Virginia Cooperative Extension. "People are concerned about where their food is coming from, how the food is being treated before it comes to us. People would like to have more control over their food."

Arlington's chicken rules are actually less restrictive than in other Northern Virginia communities, according to Artman, who worked in Loudoun and Fairfax zoning offices before arriving in Arlington. Residents who get permission to raise chickens can sell the birds and eggs from their home, no permit required.

"You can slaughter that bird right on your property and sell it from your front yard," Artman said.

Supporters of the egg project said they're willing to accept more restrictions, including limits on the number of hens allowed, if more homeowners are allowed to raise the birds.

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