Hampton City Council discusses urban chicken keeping

Jordan Crawford | 7/18/2013, 10:27 a.m.

— With a budget of $220 million to blow on large-scale projects within the next five years, Hampton City Council has chosen to focus its spending aspirations towards downtown.

City staff is to obtain waterfront property, dredge the municipal marina and lobby a grocer to move downtown, according to council members asked to prioritize projects with the purpose of bringing businesses and tourists back to the city’s commercial waterfront.

Last Wednesday’s discussions centered on specific projects, however most of them will not take effect for a few years.

The council's capital projects discussion came during a series of meetings throughout the day that touched on a wide range of topics, including urban chicken keeping. The city plans to tweak an ordinance freeing more residents to keep chickens while limiting the number of fowl residents can keep on their property to four.

"I'm very pro-chicken," said Mayor Molly Joseph Ward. "I think it's the way of the future. This could be a message to urban dwellers that we're a city willing to think out of the box."

Hampton Animal Control Director Capt. Susan Canny said the division receives few complaints about chickens; she believes just six property owners in the city legally keep them now.

"It's the kind of thing that affects neighborhoods positively or negatively, depending on your point of view," City Manager Mary Bunting said. "We wanted the time to vet this issue through our Neighborhood Commission."

Several Hampton residents have asked the city to revisit its ordinance because of action taken by other Hampton Roads cities, said Terry O'Neill, city Community Development director.

Carol Bartram, of the Peninsula Chicken Keepers, said the current rules are restrictive for most Hampton property owners.

"I hope they look at it," Bartram said of the ordinance. "I want people to keep chickens in a responsible and humane way. If people know what they're doing they can be a non-issue."

The topic has become trendier for area localities in recent years.

Norfolk is considering loosening its rules on urban chicken keeping. Chesapeake and Portsmouth have adopted similar ordinances opening up the practice to more residents. Poquoson is wrestling with tightening restrictions on chicken keepers, although its leaders have not made a final decision.

Urban chicken keeping has become popular in recent years with the increasing price of eggs. The practice is also seen as a healthy alternative for people who are unhappy with commercial chicken farmers.