On April 19th 2011 the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, voted to approve the latest staff proposal for a zoning change to allow backyard chickens in Prince William County. The approved amendment incorporated some of the less stringent requirements of the Planning Commission recommendations with the earlier staff recommendations. The amendment changes the zoning and land use regulations within the county. The full text, comments and history of the amendment can be read at this link.
The new zoning regulations allow the keeping of chickens, pigeons, doves and other domestic fowl on any A-1 (agricultural) zoned property of at least one acre located within a Domestic Fowl Overlay District to be created by the Board of Supervisors. In addition, on properties zoned SR-1, SR-3 and SR-5 (semirural) with a minimum of one acre by Special Use Permit within the Domestic Fowl Overlay District. The keeping of domestic fowl is not permitted outside of the Domestic Fowl Overlay District, except on A-1 zoned lots of ten acres or larger. A Domestic Fowl Overlay District was created by ordinance upon resolution of the Board of County Supervisors and aligns roughly with the Rural Crescent.
The maximum number of fowl allowed is proportional to the lot size. One bird unit per acre is allowed for properties of 1 to less than 5 acres, three bird units per acre for properties of 5 to less than 10 acres. There is no limit on the number of bird units allowed on properties greater than 10 acres. A bird unit is:
10 chickens (though only one rooster per acre) or
6 ducks or
4 turkeys, geese or pea fowl or
1 ostrich or emu
20 pigeons, doves, or quail
The new fowl regulations require coops or cages and runs on any lot with less than five acres and specifies construction standards and humane areas for each bird, distance from Resource Protected Areas (RPA) under the Chesapeake Bay Act, distance from well heads. In addition, waste management for surface and groundwater protection must be established using the new Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District guidelines. These guidelines should prevent (or at least significantly reduce) contamination of the groundwater, a major drinking water supply for the area, and prevent the backyard chickens from adding contaminated runoff to the Chesapeake Bay.
As our area has become more suburban, density has increased, along with the utilization of groundwater for domestic purposes and the density of septic systems. This suburban development has increased the suburban runoff and nutrient contamination to our groundwater and the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Virginia is under a federal mandate to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment contamination to the Chesapeake Bay. The federal pollution diet requires that Virginia reduce our non-point source pollution of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment. The only responsible way the County Supervisors could allow property owners the right to have backyard chickens was to control the waste in a way that would not add to the nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution. It was appropriate and necessary for them to leverage the resource of the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District to develop guidelines for low impact backyard chickens.
The proposed zoning change to allow backyard chickens contain limited regulations of the micro poultry “farms” to manage the waste and location of coops according to the protective separation requirements of the septic regulations. This hopefully will ensure that best management practices will be adopted by the backyard micro farmers without being unduly burdensom