Ed. — From the Sunday, May 9, print edition.
VIRGINIA BEACH — The City Council may consider creating an advisory body to make recommendations about whether certain agricultural activities should be allowed in urban and suburban sections of the city, such as allowing some number of backyard hens or keeping small pigs as pets.
City Councilmember Jessica Abbott, who represents the Kempsville District, unveiled a draft resolution to members of the City Council during a meeting on Tuesday, May 4, at the Virginia Beach Convention Center.
During an interview, Abbott said she intends to submit the resolution for consideration during the Tuesday, May 18, meeting of the City Council. City Councilmember Michael Berlucchi, who represents the Rose Hall District, will co-sponsor the resolution.
The new group would be seperate from the Virginia Beach Agricultural Advisory Commission, which advises the City Council on agricultural policy and key efforts such as the agricultural reserve program, or ARP. During an interview, Abbott said the Urban Agriculture Advisory Committee would initially consider a few areas of concern, but the body could stick around to address other issues down the road.
Abbott, who has long supported allowing backyard hens for suburban areas of the city, said the group would study and make recommendations about backyard hens and potbellied or “mini” pigs outside of land zoned for farming and the feasibility of a city composting program.
Currently, people who live outside the city’s agricultural district – meaning, generally speaking, people in the northern half of the city – cannot keep poultry or swine. City code prevents people from keeping such animals or engaging in some agriculture activities unless they are on land that is zoned for agriculture
“It would create an urban agriculture advisory board with the purpose of addressing typically agricultural uses in the urban parts of our city,” Abbott said during the meeting.
Abbott said the proposed advisory body would be comprised as many other boards and commissions are, with representatives from each council district and also the four at-large seats, and it would have staff support from departments such as agriculture and planning.
The body would advise the City Council, which would select its members. If approved, the new group would aim to have a mix of members with farming experience and people who do not live on land that is zoned for agriculture.
“They’ll be tasked with bringing back a recommendation on those three items and hopefully get us to a place of consensus,” Abbott said.
Berlucchi said the issue of backyard hens has been around since before he joined the City Council in 2018, and the process may give answers to citizens. Allowing hens in neighborhoods in Virginia Beach has had support for more than a decade, but it also can be a controversial topic.
“What I’ve discovered since I joined council is that there’s a very large community of people who are very interested in the council finding resolution on this issue,” Berlucchi said.
City Councilmember Barbara Henley, a farmer who represents the Princess Anne District, said she was only learning of the proposed group, and she said she wanted to know more about whether it would become a standing committee.
She said she understands the desire for study of issues such as backyard hens.
“I know the idea’s been around a long time,” Henley said during an interview on Wednesday, May 5. “It’s got pros and cons.”
City Councilmember John Moss, who holds an at-large seat, said study of such issues needs to include a look at impacts on neighbors.
“I think you have to give preference to existing property rights,” Moss said during an interview.
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