June 9, 2009 Harrisonburg City Council Report-Out

DebSF -- June 10th, 2009


Notes follow after the jump:

Edited to add:  These are my notes/interpretation, not official city council minutes, which will be published in two weeks on the city website after approval at the next council meeting.

Note: CC= City Council and PC = Planning Commission

1. Comments from the public, limited to five minutes, on matters not on the regular agenda.

Roger Baker (former city manager) spoke on the backyard chicken issue. Mr. Baker noted his surprise that this issue would ever get this far in the council process. He brought up 5 points for consideration:
•    Roosters don’t make a lot of noise; it’s the cackling laying hens that are the problem, which are noisy all day long. Banning roosters doesn’t solve the noise problem.
•    If chickens, why not hogs? Turkeys?
•    The county restricts chickens to within 300 feet of any residence. Following this in the city would mean only families with large lots would be permitted to raise chickens.
•    Fresh, free range organic eggs can be gotten easily from the farmers market twice weekly.
•    Please remember that council members are elected at large from the city, to represent the city, not just a vocal minority.

Dianne Grey (sp?), also on chickens:
•    Discussion with Realtors indicate chickens in neighborhoods would decrease property values
•    Biosecurity is a concern- avian flu has (and could) have significant effects on the community

2. Consent Agenda (any item placed on the consent agenda shall be removed and taken up as a separate matter, if so requested by any member of Council, otherwise all items will be voted on with one (1) motion).

a)    Approval of minutes of the previous meeting and dispensing with reading of minutes.
b)    Consider supplemental appropriation for the Police Department in the amount of $3,396.00 – Second Reading.
c)    Consider supplemental appropriation for the Fire Department in the amount of $31,042.56 – Second Reading.
d)    Consider supplemental appropriation for Tourism Office – Second Reading.
e)    Consider referring an alley closing request by Donna R. Brock to the Planning Commission.

Moved and approved, carried unanimously, no discussion.

3.    Public Hearing – Consider a request from Dana Joy Harshberger to vacate and close a portion of an alley between South Willow Street and South Dogwood Drive.

Both staff and PC recommend. A couple of people spoke; one person, concerned about future access to his property if the need should arise in the future, and another, who uses the alley to access parking and move a camper. Adjoining property owners will have the option to buy the portion of the alley closed. Motion made and approved unanimously.

4. Public Hearing – Consider amending Section 10-3-24 of the Zoning Ordinance. The question concerns an amendment of the definition of a Home Occupation Use Permit.

Current Definition: Home occupation: “Any occupation or activity which is clearly incidental to the use of the premises for dwelling purposes and which is carried on wholly within a main building or accessory building by a member of a family residing on the premises, in connection with which there is no advertising on the premises, and no other display or storage or variation from the residential character of the premises, and in connection with which no person outside the family is employed and no equipment which is deemed to be in conflict with the intent of this definition. A home occupation shall not include beauty parlors, barber shops or doctors’ or dentists’ offices for the treatment of patients.”

Certain categories of home businesses are explicitly not allowed in the city. Staff and PC current interpretation is that a business cannot have customers coming to the home, or employees reporting to your home for work; issues are traffic and congestion. During the 1990’s, PC and CC decided that music teachers are an exception, and can have customers (i.e. students) come to the home to purchase the lesson. This has been pretty easy to enforce. Staff has explored the idea of a special use permit that would allow a small number of customers to come to other home businesses on a case-by-case basis. Staff and PC were concerned about opening this up to abuse ( i.e., how small is “small). As an alternative, staff and PC are proposing an amendment to the code through this addition after the last sentence of the current the ordinance: The foregoing nonwithstanding, providing professional counseling services by appointment only for not more than 10 clients per week and giving music lessons shall constitute home occupations.

PC voted unanimously to approve this.

The following issues arose in the PC discussion:
• This might be difficult to enforce
• Neighbors might have difficulty identifying problems about traffic and clientele near their homes
• Parking for home occupations in townhouses and apartments (which already have limited parking options) might be adversely affected
• This could set precedent for more residents wanting other kinds of “home occupation”
• Definition of “professional counseling” can be an issue.

Council Discussion: Examples of recently not-allowed home occupations include accountants, dog grooming, tarot card readings and more. Signage restrictions would not change (no signs are allowed now). 4 people coming to 1 counseling session would count as 4 of the 10 allowed clients.

Public Hearing: Issue has come up in the case of Dr. Harriet Cobb, JMU faculty member with a small independent clinical counseling practice. She has discussed the possibility with neighbors, and reports no objections. Dr. Cobb believes that this activity preserves the character of her R1 neighborhood, and has minimal traffic impact (also no noise, and no feathers- the reference to chickens got a laugh).

Council Discussion: One suggestion concerned a possible change in wording of addendum from 10 clients to 10 client visits. Perhaps the PC need to be more proactive and take up the definition of professional counseling definition guidelines and even home-based businesses in general to avoid having to make decisions on the fly.
Moved and approved, carried unanimously.

5. Public Hearing – Consider a request from Abel Castro of Iglesia Nueva Vida Pentecostes for a special use permit to allow for a religious use at 760 Waterman Drive.

Question deals with locating a church in an M1 industrial area. Churches are permitted in this zoning classification, but the city’s concern centers on mixing commercial traffic with residential-scaled traffic with other uses. The church received this special use permit in 2003 and 2007 to undertake same project at same location, but the permit “expired”. They group has submitted a site plan, and PC has require them to come back to CC to effectively renew the special use permit. PC and staff also would recommend that special use permit be good for 3 years.

Moved and approved, carried unanimously.

6. Consider request for School Fund transfer

This request in an accounting issue, moving $200,000 from one city pocket to another and is partially a result of recoding of personnel from one functional category to another.

Moved and approved, carried unanimously.

7. Consider request to reserve unexpended funds – Parks & Recreation

Weather has delayed construction of an in-house building project associated with constructing a pavilion to be used for social events accompanying the First Tee program and Heritage Oaks. This request is to move funds to next fiscal year when (weather permitting) the project will proceed.

Moved and approved, carried unanimously.

8. Consider funding requests for Our Community Place and Northeast Neighborhood

North East Neighborhood Association: Association asks for name to be removed from request for funding list at this time. NENA in process of reorganization and will return to council in the future.

Council Discussion themes centered on: Supporting neighborhoods is part of comprehensive plan. How should the city do this? Should 501-C be requirement for getting funding for the city (this organization is not a 501-C)? Should contribution be in-kind (i.e., a clean-up day) or funds?

Motion made to form the Neighborhood Association Committee, and to appoint councilmen Byrd and Mayor Degner to the committee in order to explore ways to fulfill comprehensive plan charge to develop vibrant neighborhood associations.

Moved and approved, carried unanimously.
Our Community Place: Council notes that organization has virtually no overhead, and helps those most in need. Motion is made to give $5,000 to the Our Community Works program to help those who help homeless or near-homeless. Dollars will come from contingency fund. After all, as Councilman Byrd noted, “We’re selling an alley.”

Motion passes unanimously.

9. Amend and re-enact Section 7-4-1 schedule of rates and charges of the Harrisonburg Department of Public Utilities for Fiscal Year 2010.

City Manager notes that this action is required whenever we adjust utility rates. Moved and approved, carried unanimously.

10. Consider amending and re-enacting Section 4-2-16 of the Harrisonburg City Code – First Reading.

This brings the city code into compliance with state statue that, as of July 1, allows for an additional charge of a $2 fee for civil cases in all courts in city (the fee formerly only applied to criminal and traffic courts). Revenue goes to courthouse maintenance.

11. Other Matters:

Application from new restaurant to have outdoor seating from Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint 80 S Main Street. Moved and approved, carried unanimously.

12. Boards and Commissions

Social Services Advisory Board – Phyllis Wong term will expire on July 1, 2009.

28 Responses to “June 9, 2009 Harrisonburg City Council Report-Out”

  1. Lisa says:

    These notes are great, Deb! Thanks for posting them. It’s too bad the video from council meetings aren’t recorded and posted online in case you can’t catch it live on CitySpan.

  2. Outside Observer says:

    Regarding Roger Baker’s comments on the chicken issue, I didn’t realize chicken supporters were a “vocal minority.” Every source I’ve read, including the DNR and minutes from Mayor Degner’s sustainability summit, notes how exceptionally, and evenly, divided the community is. Also the whole “Why not hogs and turkeys?” argument is nonsense. Easy answers: because chickens AREN’T hogs and turkeys.

    I’m surprised that he would waste council’s time with such empty discussion.

  3. Karl says:

    I agree with Lisa on the CC meeting video. My complaint is that it’s not on city span more than once. Every other locality you go to seems to replay the CC meeting’s over and over again. I think having it run on different days and different times would be beneficial and probably very easy to do. I know that a DVD of each meeting is given to the city, what I don’t know is if that is/could be made available at the library.

  4. JGFitzgerald says:


    A 40-cent DVD copies in a few minutes on a cheap computer. The decision to do it is what’s needed. And if this can be on youtube, an mpeg of a council meeting could be.

    And on the chickens … always good to know what the Realtors know as a stone-hard fact. Maybe we should ask the investment bankers too.

  5. Josh says:

    Check out how Cupertino, CA posts their City Council agendas, minutes and webcasts:


  6. seth says:

    ‘ … always good to know what the Realtors know as a stone-hard fact. Maybe we should ask the investment bankers too.’


    it is a well known fact that realtors hate chickens. not sure about investment bankers, but realtors….
    talk about the fox watching the…
    forget it.

  7. Scott Rogers says:

    it is a well known fact that realtors hate chickens

    I’m a Realtor, and I love chicken….chicken cordon bleu, chicken noodle soup, orange chicken, #9 at BK, and so many more.

  8. citydweller says:

    i applaud roger baker for bringing some common sense to the issue regarding chickens. i’m also happy to hear that realtors also agree that chickens can hurt property values.

  9. Emo Boy says:

    Hey look there, Roger Baker has common sense, I guess he found that after he retired.

  10. JGFitzgerald says:

    Perhaps common courtesy could be gained in the same fashion, EB. Think about it.

    I remain agnostic on the issue of chickens in the city. But taking it from either side …

    Richard and Dave are, by personal constitution if nothing else, required to give consideration, perhaps leeway, to a group of people who go to the effort of trying to change the law instead of just turning their chickens loose.

    At the same time, the last city that tried to de-industrialize was Phnom Penh. That didn’t work out too well.

  11. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Nice work, Deb. Your summary was comprehensive and very readable. Where would the outdoor seating for Jack Brown’s be, I wonder.

    And geez louise, is it just me, or does it seem like First Tee is actually just a cover for continuing to sink city money into the Heritage Oaks golf course? I think I’m correct in saying that the annual operating losses of Heritage Oaks (more than $600,000 in FY2008) exceed the entire fundraising goal from private donations for the First Tee program (which I think is less than $500,000). I really think we should do a yearlong study on the city-financed recreation options to see how many people, and how many recreational hours city residents are getting for each dollar spent.

  12. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    *to see how many people ARE USING EACH OPTION (like the pool, the skate park, the soccer fields, the gym, etc.)

  13. Thanks for taking the time to do this, Deb. Comprehensive.

    I’ve wondered the same thing about Jack Brown’s outdoor seating. The parking lot (alley) is on an incline.

  14. Jamie Smith says:

    Yeah, let’s do a year long study on every field, tennis court, pool, gym, rest room and picnic table owned by the city. That shouldn’t cost much.
    First Tee is a great program for kids; kids that as they grow up will perhaps play on the city golf course and turn it into a cash cow for the ‘Burg thus giving the doubters nothing to complain about.

  15. Josh says:

    Jeremy, How many residents would have to make use of a facility/program for you to consider it a worthy expenditure?

  16. seth says:

    i’m pretty sure they’re getting that alley, but i don’t know what the arrangement or long term plan is.

  17. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    I think we need to take into account the value we get from each type of program. If soccer fields cost the city (I don’t know, just taking a stab in the dark) 25 cents per recreation hour when you divide the cost by the number of hours it was used, while some other program (like, say, golf) costs the city $10 per recreation hour when you divide the cost by the number of hours used, I think that could be helpful info in planning which programs to expand and which to cut. The place I work is near Heritage Oaks, and I would be surprised if even 40 city residents a day use it. If each of those 40 daily visitors are there for an average of 4 hours (again, just taking a stab in the dark with numbers), then over the course of the year that would be 58,400 recreational hours…so if the golf course is losing $600k annually in operational costs (not to mention the costs of building it which haven’t been recovered) that would mean more than $10 of city expenditure per recreation hour. It might be cheaper just to give vouchers to make up the minor difference in the price of a daily pass to Heritage Oaks versus one of the local private courses.

    My point, though, is that without information it just becomes a matter of the personal preferences (dare I say whims) of the people deciding the future of different recreational options. It doesn’t have to be a big deal; all of these places are staffed and we can do something as simple as hand out clickers to see how many people use it over the course of a day, week, month, and year, and then do some statistical sampling on the average length of a visit.

  18. Scott Rogers says:

    Is it a commonly held community planning or local governance principle to try to maintain equivalent costs per hour used for all recreational facilities? I would assume those costs are wildly different for all recreational facilities regardless of the local community you examined.

  19. JGFitzgerald says:

    Why are we still arguing about the golf course when we have chickens?

    The course, as a recreational facility, is unique in several aspects. There’s a multi-million dollar bond on it, it was touted as a money-maker, and its product competes with the private market.

    The budget is available online. A quick read appears to reveal (these things aren’t designed to be readable) that Parks and Recreation, exclusive of golf, earned $328K and spent $3.6M in the last full fiscal year. The golf course earned $658K and spent $1.3M.

    Now can we get back to chickens and alleys?

  20. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Well Scott, look at it another way…would the city accept a $600,000 annual operating loss on a skate park or Westover pool without comparing that cost to other recreational programs?

    I’m not trying to prejudge the results; maybe Heritage Oaks is really a worthy expenditure that would stack up well against other city recreation options…if so, that would really bolster the arguments in favor of keeping it around.

  21. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Joe, if we could shift $600k from the city budget, we could buy biohazard coops for all the city chickens and really add some bling to all the city alleys, too. :-)

  22. Tad says:

    “biohazard coops”

    Can we all please get beyond the notion that backyard chickens pose a biosecurity or disease risk to commercial flocks and people? This myth pushed by corporate ag is no more real than the boogey man or the tax on emails rumor that went around a few years back. Numerous studies both in this country and abroad point the figure of avian flu disease risk squarely on commerical flocks. They provide the perfect environment for mutating bugs. The Shenandoah Valley avian flu outbreaks in 1983 and 2002 were both likely caused by live bird markets on the east coast and not backyard chickens. In 2002, testing of backyard flocks for avian flu came back with ZERO positives. Poor biosecurity procedures by poultry companies were also to blame. Studies of the outbreaks in Asia by the John Hopkins School of Public Health and GRAIN also point to large commercial operations as the real problem. So if you want to oppose backyard flocks because you think they will lower your property values, make too much noise, or stink up the joint those seem like points to consider. However, the biosecurity threat glass holds no water.

  23. Lowell says:

    Could it be arranged to allow people to free range chickens on the golf course?

    Now, here’s one to throw some oil onto the fire….
    What about, (a hush falls on the crowd…) Clothes lines?
    (A gasp goes around the room, then silence, the silence of anticipation…)

  24. Jamie Smith says:

    Lowell, often the anticipation is greater than the event.

  25. Lowell says:

    Most often the case. But just think Jamie, if people are getting so fired up by chickens, how far in flames will emotions go when someone proposes allowing people to put up clothes lines in upscale neighborhoods? Oh the humanity!

  26. seth says:

    harrisonburg backyard clothesline project?

    what will the realtors say?

  27. Scott Rogers says:

    Seth — it depends, does the house still come with a clothes dryer? :)

  28. Re: backyard chickens – local veterinarian Peggy Duhamel writes in favor of legalizing the birds in today’s DNR.

    “If kept to small numbers and cared for properly, backyard flocks neither should nor would create unpleasant odors, lead to any increase in pests or predators, nor be a risk for spreading infectious diseases to either humans or commercial fowl. I had my chickens in Columbus for two years before my neighbors ever knew they were there!

    Surely four to six hens clucking as they scratch and eat up ticks and other pests and the smell generated by their droppings cannot compare to the blasts of the train and the stench from the poultry processing plants and grain elevators that we have in the heart of downtown. Boom box speakers driving by, motorcycles revving up and dogs barking … we live with much of that. No one asks our permission. When it exists in excess then we can file a nuisance complaint. So it should be with chickens not kept properly and responsibly.”

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