CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Chickens in the city? You might be surprised.
Rumor has it there's at least one henhouse in downtown Charleston and another in the East End.
Just no roosters, please. No one wants to be awakened before dawn every day.
City Council members and Planning Department staff in the city's Strong Neighborhoods Task Force hope to tweak current zoning laws that apply to farming practices, spurred in part by residents calling the Planning Department.
"It pops up maybe every couple weeks -- 'My neighbor has chickens' or 'We're interested in doing this,'" said neighborhood planner Geoff Plagemann. "There was one running around the East End, and still is.
"This whole thing piques peoples' interest, and it fits with the sustainable lifestyle. How far can you take it? People want to raise chickens."
The back-to-the-land movement of the '70s brought hundreds, maybe thousands of counterculture types to West Virginia to try their hand at farming. Now the trend has moved into the cities.
"You can go across the country," Plagemann said, "all the large cities are looking at urban agriculture. The American Planning Association has several pamphlets on the subject. Planning Magazine, they did a whole issue dedicated to urban agriculture."
Last year, city Planning Director Dan Vriendt asked Plagemann to look into the matter.
"Already in the city we have a lot of little plots, community gardens," Plagemann said. Tom Tolliver has several gardens on the West Side, he said, and is planning another on a Rebecca Street site the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority originally planned to turn into a small park.
Plagemann took the issue to the Strong Neighborhoods Task Force. "Dan felt it was a good fit with their objectives, since we're talking about sustainable neighborhoods. We brought it to them, just to see what they thought: Do you want to take it on as a task force?
"They wanted more information and to see how it fit into our city code. Some people already thought [the code] addresses this."
It does, but not clearly. People are allowed to keep non-commercial livestock or poultry in residential neighborhoods, but only on lots of at least one acre and if they don't create a noise or odor nuisance.
Officially, "We have to look how big the lot is. Right now the answer is no. That's why we're looking at changing the law," Plagemann said.
"It's a big, gray area. I've only heard of one [person raising hens] on the West Side, one downtown and one on the East End. We know for sure there are some in other places.