But a complaint attracted the county’s code enforcement department. County residents must have 2 acres to have poultry unless they are given a variance.
Bonnie Epstein made a variance request to the Board of Zoning Appeals on Wednesday, but the board denied it.
Epstein said the ducks are used for her husband’s therapy. Since her husband suffered a car accident years ago that prompted multiple back and neck surgeries, it left him reliant on pain medication, she said.
“One of the major side effects of the medication is depression,” Bonnie Epstein said. “Caring for these ducks gives him an avenue of motivation that helps overcome the depression. Regardless of how much pain he may be in on a given day or how he feels, he is enthusiastic about going to care for his animals.”
She submitted a letter from her husband’s physician, Dr. David Steinberg of the Emory Clinic, who wrote that without the animals, Larry Epstein “would probably require an anti-depressant or psychotherapy otherwise in my opinion.”
The ducks, Bonnie Epstein said, would die naturally, likely in three years, and not be replaced. By that time her husband will have transitioned to another means of therapy.
Bonnie Epstein also submitted letters of support for her ducks from her adjacent neighbors.
Jill Flamm, president of the East Cobb Civic Association, asked the board to deny the request.
“The ECCA recommends denial of this application as there is no hardship as dictated by the code,” Flamm said.
Commissioner Bob Ott’s appointment to the board, Kim Swanson, asked about the length of a duck’s life.
“They usually live about eight to 12 years, and so therefore with the ages of the ducks we have, we are just assuming within the next three years or so they will all have died of natural causes,” Bonnie Epstein told her.
Swanson said after speaking with the county attorney, she learned that the code does not offer a legal reason for granting Epstein the variance. While Cobb falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ADA only accepts dogs as therapeutic animals, she said.
Swanson also spoke of her visit to the Epstein home.
“I was quite surprised to learn that some ducks don’t quack,” Swanson said. “These ducks don’t quack and these ducks — I lived on a farm, and I had a duck, and he was actually a very mean duck. These ducks come up to you, and they’re the most pampered ducks that I’ve ever run into. I was very impressed with the enclosure and how well it’s kept, how well the ducks are kept. They have a little exercise area, they have a little swimming pool area that’s clean, they have fresh food and fresh water.”
Swanson recommended denying the application for a variance, which the board approved in a unanimous vote. However, she directed code enforcement not to visit the site until May 8, 2016.
“I will give you three years for the last duck to pass away,” Swanson said.
In her comments to the board asking that it reject the variance request, Flamm said she had no comment regarding the length of time it takes for Epstein to come into compliance.