CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston residents would be able to raise up to six laying hens anywhere in the city -- no permits, no red tape -- under an urban agriculture bill to be introduced at City Council May 6.
The bill, written by neighborhood planner Geoff Plagemann, also sets out minimal rules for community gardens, beekeeping and commercial farming.
It originated in the Strong Neighborhoods Task Force, where City Council members, city staff and community members have been working on the issue for months.
In effect, the bill adds language to the city's zoning code to cover things people are doing -- building backyard or rooftop chicken coops, digging community gardens and putting up beehives.
For example, the bill says community gardens are allowed, without any special permit, in all zoning districts across the city -- residential, commercial and industrial.
"They've been popping up everywhere already," Plagemann said. "We didn't see any need to limit them."
Community gardens are defined as, "A neighborhood-based development with the primary purpose of providing space for members of the community to grow plants for beautification, education, recreation, community distribution, or personal use."
Urban farms, however, are larger operations where fruits, vegetables or other plants are grown for wholesale or retail sales, and are restricted to commercial and industrial districts -- often only with a conditional use permit from the zoning board.
While much of the bill was modeled after urban agriculture regulation in other cities, Plagemann said some of the specifics were based on discussions with area growers.
"We didn't know how many chickens to allow," he said. "We found out chickens are social, so you need to have at least three. That's how the six [limit] came about."
Hens and henhouses are not allowed in front yards, the bill says, and roosters are a no-no unless you own an acre or more.