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City Council discusses livestock as possible pets in Poquoson

City Council discusses livestock as possible pets, neighbors in Poquoson

Bleats, buzzes and whinnies may replace cock-a-doodle-doos in Poquoson due to a proposed ordinance to amend farm animal regulations in the city.

The ordinance, which is in its early drafting phase and likely to see revision, could affect the sights and sounds of the city by allowing the introduction of bees and pygmy animals and placing an embargo on roosters.

City planner Dannan O'Connell presented a draft of the ordinance at a work session before Monday evening's City Council meeting and sought the input of the council members.

The amendments to farm animal regulations would make it easier to own pygmy animals, restrict having roosters and provide guidance on keeping bees. O'Connell said the amendments stem from recent trends and requests from the community.

Discussion of the amendments began in November 2016 with citizens expressing interest in keeping pygmy and miniature animals, such as horses and goats, that are much smaller than their full-size relatives — O'Connell compared them to the size of large dogs. Space regulations for pygmy animals are currently the same as the full-size animals. Under the new regulations, a miniature horse would require 1,000 square feet of open space; a full-size horse requires more than 2 acres.

The proposed ban on roosters emerged from complaints from residents, according to O'Connell. Roosters currently in Poquoson would be able to remain under the proposed ordinance, but if they become nuisances to neighbors, they would be given collars that prevent crowing. The regulations also include new spacing requirements for enclosed coops and outdoor chicken pens to prevent overcrowding and spread of disease.

Due to the increasing popularity of the hobby in the city, the ordinance adds regulations for beekeeping, which is not currently regulated in the city, O'Connell said. The new regulations would allow bees to be kept without a permit, as long as the beehives are 50 feet from homes or public areas, the property contains a water source and beekeepers follow state honeybee regulations.

The final new regulation is a $15 fee for the annual renewal of farm animal permits to cover the cost of animal inspections and permitting notifications. If the number of animals and their conditions do not change in a year, the fee will be waived, O'Connell said.

After the presentation, Mayor Eugene Hunt expressed concern for the total ban on new roosters, saying that someone with a large property that has a rooster on it likely does not bother anyone. Two residents, one of whom identified himself as a farmer, echoed Hunt's concern during the public comment portion of the meeting and encouraged the city to adjust the proposed prohibition.

Councilwoman Jana Andrews said keeping a pygmy goat in the city would not be simple because of the noise and fact that goats are often kept in groups. She asked if neighbors of a person keeping a pygmy animal had the ability to challenge the permit to keep that animal, and City Manager Randy Wheeler said he would have the authority to rule on those complaints.

Andrews also pointed out upcoming developments in the city and asked Wheeler and O'Connell to consider the spacing in those developments, which would have smaller lots but may be big enough for farm animals under the ordinance.

The ordinance is still in its drafting phase and will eventually go to the planning commission before possibly returning to the City Council for a vote.

Reyes can be reached by phone at 757-247-4692.

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