Who would be the chicken police in Alexandria?
The City of Alexandria contemplates allowing chickens within city limits.
ALEXANDRIA — If Alexandrians keep chickens in their yard, what happens if one escapes?
Will the police be called in to capture stray chickens, the way they do stray dogs? Will stray chickens be taken to the humane society, the way cats and dogs are?
Will chickens need leg bands with identifying information the way dogs need collars?
These were some of the topics raised at a March 20 public hearing to decide whether to allow chickens to be kept in the city limits.
“Who’s going to be the chicken police? How are we as a city going to police this?” asked Shane Schmidt, a member of the Alexandria Planning Commission.
Two citizens spoke at the meeting.
Joanna Hollenbeck, a homeschool mom who said her family wants to keep chickens at pets, is asking the city to change its rules. She presented the chicken plan for their own property and suggested that the city allow chickens on lots of at least an acre and that the city ban the sale of back-yard eggs. She said their chicken coop would be 80 square feet and surrounded by mesh fence to keep chickens in and protect them from predators. She said she has thought of concerns both for those who want chickens and those who might not want them as neighbors.
"We have done our due diligence," she said. "We did a lot of soul searching to see if we were up for this."
Other concerns raised at the hearing: Preventing the spread of avian influenza, disposing of carcasses, getting rid of waste, and the size of coops.
And as for the chicken police?
That would probably be the Alexandria Police Department.
"Whichever police officer gets the call," said Community Development Director Mike Weber. The city used to have an animal control officer, who was able to respond quickly to animal-related calls. Now, however, it could take an officer an hour to respond if there are more important calls.
"In an hour, a chicken and a dog can go a long way," he pointed out.
With or without permission, there have been several instances in the city where people have been keeping chickens within the city limits, Weber said.
"Occasionally the chickens do escape and they become free range of their own volition," he said. "The police department has been called, has gone to Noonan's Park and has found free chickens roaming the boulevard there and has had to exercise their own law enforcement discretion.
"We also had an instance again near Noonan Park," Weber added. Someone had two chickens and a rooster. The rooster escaped confinement and actually attacked a person walking down the street. That person become severely injured."
Hollenbeck suggested only allowing four chickens on lots of at least one acre and one additional chicken per half acre.
Roger Thalmann, however, suggested reducing that lot size requirement, as many city residents don't have an entire acre of land.
Alexandrians haven't been able to keep chickens probably since the 1950s, said Weber. In 2014, the planning commission did an "exhaustive" amount of work and recommended 4-2 that residents be allowed to keep chickens, but the city council voted against it with three against and two for, he said.
"But that's almost nine years ago and how time flies. It flies just like chickens, I guess and that's going to be the first chicken joke," Weber quipped.
He quickly added that the topic is one that people "flock to," drawing groans and laughs.
The commission will continue the hearing at its April meeting.