Revised chicken ordinance dies in council chamber

Published 11:33 am Friday, September 15, 2017

Backyard chickens will not be permitted on residential-zoned properties in Windsor. A draft ordinance proposed by the town’s planning commission, which would have allowed chickens on properties zoned R1 and R4, was defeated on Tuesday evening in a 4-2 council vote.

The only votes in favor of the ordinance came from councilmen N. Macon Edwards and Walter Bernacki.

“As the mayor, I think this has been the most divisive issue that I’ve ever dealt with,” said Mayor Carita Richardson. “And that’s not Windsor; Windsor pulls together.

“Sometimes, when you vote up here, it’s really difficult. There are no good answers, but once you vote, it’s time to move on. We have larger issues in the town of Windsor that we have to deal with.”

Prior to voting, the council held a public hearing on the most recent draft of the ordinance, during which numerous citizens spoke both for and against it. Speakers in favor of residential chickens included Gail Bernacki, Robert Howell, Richard Griggs, Justin Williams and Dakota Bernacki. Speakers against included Lud Spivey, Katherine Queen, Connie Yateman, Ruben Askew, J. Clint Bryant and Robert Beale.

“It is a pleasure to live in a town small enough to still be discussing having chickens,” Griggs said. “A few years ago, I had a few on North Court Street and received no objections from my neighbors. They were happy to take my eggs when I had them. My grandchildren very much enjoyed feeding my chickens and seeing them sitting on my lap.”

“No law should ever be negotiable between neighbors,” Spivey said, referring to the planning commission’s suggestion that someone wishing to place a chicken coop closer to the edge of his or her property than the mandated 15-foot setback could obtain a license to do so from neighbors. “The law is not good for chickens either. Roosters are discriminated against. Chickens need freedom to roam.”

Town Manager Michael Stallings explained that the council’s vote did not do away with their ordinance passed in late 2016 allowing chickens on lots zoned A1 agricultural that are at least five acres large, with pens that are at a minimum of 50 feet from the nearest property line. It simply did not expand the ordinance to include residential lots.

He added that since the revised ordinance was defeated, the keeping of chickens on public property is also still illegal within the town’s borders. This means that the chickens housed at Windsor High School for agriculture classes are technically in violation of the town’s zoning ordinances, but Stallings said the town is planning to work with the school to find a solution.

In other business, the council voted unanimously to approve a memorandum of understanding with Isle of Wight County to share the cost of constructing sidewalks on Shiloh Drive, and to schedule interviews with the top three lowest bidders for an annual engineering services contract: Kimley-Horn, Bowman Consulting and Dewberry. The company chosen would be the first called in the event the town needed minor civil engineering work.

The council also voted to re-appropriate $123,800 remaining from last year’s budget, intended for upgrading the town’s financial software to Munis, to this year’s finance budget, so that the town can continue to pay invoices for software setup.

The MOU states that Windsor agrees to provide the county with funds based off the 90 percent design documents construction estimate. Isle of Wight County will administer the project and will apply for revenue sharing funds from the Virginia Department of Transportation. If approved for revenue sharing, VDOT could provide up to 50 percent of the funds for the construction of the sidewalks. Any unused funds will be transferred back to the town at the completion of the project.

Edwards asked if the MOU would compel the town to spend more than it could afford for its contribution in the event that construction bids came in well over what the county had estimated, but Stallings said that the town would always have the option to reject all bids.

The final matter on which the council voted that evening was to make minor grammatical changes to the job descriptions of the town’s clerk and treasurer, and, at the request of Councilwoman Patty Flemming, add language requiring the treasurer to have a driver’s license. That motion was likewise approved unanimously.

Citizens’ concerns brought up during the meeting included reports of leaking water pipes on Virginia Avenue and Duke Street and ongoing issues with stormwater drainage. Richardson said the town was aware that it would soon have to replace all the water pipes on both of the affected streets.

The final matter the council discussed before going into closed session was a request by Flemming to not have a town-owned, 4-acre plot of land on Bank Street be farmed anymore, and instead turn it into a town park. She also mentioned her concerns over the lack of bathroom facilities at Robinson Park.