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Measure would allow city residents to raise hens, bees

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Charleston residents would be allowed to keep and raise hens and bees in city limits under a measure officials advanced Wednesday.

Members of the Charleston Municipal Planning Commission were unanimous in their support for the ordinance, which would allow residents to keep up to three beehives and six hens.

Commission member Mary Jean Davis said she was surprised how many people are already conducting limited agriculture on their property. 

The ordinance also seeks to protect neighboring residents from excessive noise, odor or other nuisances. Larger farm operations -- not including community or home gardens -- would require approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals. Those operations would also need permits to erect structures and are only allowed in certain commercial zones.

Operations must be well maintained and cannot interfere with traffic. Henhouses, hens and beehives would not be allowed in front yards.

Roosters would still be prohibited, except in special circumstances.

Geoff Plagemann, neighborhood planner with the city Planning Department, was the author of the ordinance. He said it is largely based on similar laws in other cities, and that he has revised it several times over the last few months to address resident concerns.

He said urban agriculture is a growing trend.

"We wanted to be ahead of the curve," he said in an interview before the meeting.

Some commission members were worried about potential safety hazards of beekeeping in a populated area. Plagemann wasn't concerned.

He said honeybees -- the type that would be permitted under the proposed ordinance -- don't sting unless threatened, and only swarm when looking for a new hive. He also said the bees tend to fly upwards before flying away from the hive, which would reduce the impact a hive would have on the owner's neighbors.

Hens also have minimal impact on neighboring residences, Plagemann said.

Davis and Plagemann both said that feedback from Charleston residents has been overwhelmingly positive.

The ordinance will now go to the Charleston City Council for approval.

Contact writer Matt Murphy at Matt.Murphy@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817.

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