Regulating the number of adult dogs allowed per dwelling in residential zoning districts




Adoption of a Resolution of Intent to amend the Zoning Ordinance to regulate the number of adult dogs allowed as accessory to a primary residential use in residential zoning districts




Messrs. Tucker, Foley, Davis, Kamptner, Graham, and Higgins, Ms. McCulley







May 7, 2008


ACTION:   X           INFORMATION:   



  ACTION:              INFORMATION:   











Keeping dogs is allowed in all residential zoning districts when the dogs are accessory to a primary residential use.  Because the zoning regulations do not regulate the number of dogs allowed, whether the number of dogs kept is accessory to a primary residential use depends on whether the dogs are “subordinate and customarily incidental” to the primary residential use.


Last October, the Deputy Zoning Administrator issued a notice of violation to Ellen Hawkins, a resident in the Rio Magisterial District, after an inspection found 27 adult dogs and 7 puppies, along with associated equipment and supplies, at her residence.  Hawkins appealed the determination to the Board of Zoning Appeals, which after a public hearing, modified the Deputy Zoning Administrator’s determination by finding that the dogs that were Hawkins’ pets, approximately 8 in number, were accessory to the primary residential use, and affirmed the portion of the Deputy Zoning Administrator’s determination with respect to the remaining dogs, which Hawkins temporarily kept at her house in her work for an animal rescue operation until she could find a permanent placement for the dogs, that those dogs were being kept in violation of the Zoning Ordinance. (See Attachment A) 


Although the Board of Zoning Appeals received information from County staff about the number of dogs other localities had determined to be appropriate under their respective zoning ordinances, the Board of Zoning Appeals demurred from establishing a specific maximum number of dogs that would be found to be accessory.  Recognizing the precedential and policy-setting effect such a decision could have, the Board of Zoning Appeals correctly stated that such a decision should be left to the Board of Supervisors by amending the Zoning Ordinance.




Goal One:  Enhance the Quality of Life for All Citizens. 




Most zoning complaints about dogs, including the complaint that led to the inspection of the Hawkins’ property, pertain to barking.  However, barking is an exempt sound under the Zoning Ordinance’s noise regulations. In addition to noise, dogs may cause other impacts including odors, flies, and pollution of stormwater, all consequences of improper waste control and disposal. 


Before the Deputy Zoning Administrator issued the Notice of Violation to Hawkins, staff reviewed the zoning regulations of selected Virginia counties.  Fairfax County allows a specified numbers of dogs depending on lot size, e.g., up to 6 dogs are allowed on lots of at least 20,000 square feet, 7 dogs are allowed on lots of at least 25,000 square feet, and one additional dog is allowed for each additional 5,000 square feet in lot size.  Fauquier County allows up to 4 dogs on lots less than 2 acres, and up to 12 dogs on any lot 2 acres or larger subject to certain requirements.  Henrico County allows up to 3 pets per residence, but allows an owner to seek a special use permit for a private kennel to have more than 3 pets.  Though additional research will be conducted for the text amendment itself, the current consensus of staff will be to recommend that the maximum number of adult dogs (6 months or older) in the residential zoning districts should be limited to 5 per residence. 


Staff does not recommend the number of dogs in the Rural Areas zoning district be limited at this time.  The generally agricultural and forestal nature of that district presents a different situation than the those districts that are strictly residential in nature: (1) the purpose and intent of the Rural Areas zoning district is to provide a lower level of services than the urban and surburban parts of the County and to promote agricultural and forestal activities; (2) working dogs are a part of agriculture and hunting dogs are a part of the traditional activities of the County’s rural areas; and (3) livestock and other domesticated animals may also create noise, odors and other impacts, but regulating those animals would be contrary to the agricultural purposes of the district.  Nonetheless, if staff finds that there are dog-related complaints coming from the small lots and suburban subdivisions in the Rural Areas zoning district, it will recommend an amendment to the Rural Areas zoning district regulations to address dog-related impacts in such Rural Areas subdivisions.           




This amendment would increase the workload of zoning inspectors because it would add a new ground for a zoning complaint. 




Staff recommends that the Board adopt the attached resolution of intent. 




A – March 4, 2008 Decision of the Board of Zoning Appeals

B – Resolution of Intent to Amend the Zoning Ordinance

Return to regular agenda