Chickens were not allowed on lots with fewer than 2 acres until the Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 last year to lift the ban, with Commissioner JoAnn Birrell and county Chairman Tim Lee voting no.
Unsatisfied with that vote, Birrell and Lee are trying to bring back the bird ban this month — at least on lots smaller than 2 acres.
“I wasn’t in favor of changing the code last year,” Birrell said. “To me, I still feel 2 acres is appropriate. That still allows for the individual to come in and apply for a variance for under 2 acres.”
Under the ordinance passed last year by Commissioners Bob Ott, Lisa Cupid and Helen Goreham, residents who want hens but have fewer than 2 acres must apply for a $150 variance with the Cobb Board of Zoning Appeals. If the zoning board rejects the request, it stops there unless the resident appeals to Cobb Superior Court. If the zoning board grants the request, it must be ratified by the Board of Commissioners.
Activist: Issue of property rights
The year-old ordinance has led to anything but a flood of fowl into densely populated subdivisions.
In fact, only six residents applied for variance applications for backyard chickens in the year since the ordinance was adopted.
Two were rejected in the first round of applications by the zoning board. One was withdrawn before appearing before the zoning board. Another was approved by the zoning board but withdrawn before it made it to commissioners.
Only two were approved by both boards.
Joseph Pond of east Cobb, who led the charge to pass the ordinance last year, saw his application rejected by the zoning board.
Some who want to raise hens become frustrated with the lengthy application process and cost, he said, and end up calling it quits.
Pond maintains it’s an issue of property rights and an overzealous local government. He announced on Thursday his intention to challenge Birrell for her seat on the commission and said the matter of property rights “opened up for me” a new world.
“It’s our right. It’s an example of our property rights,” Pond said. “In the city of Atlanta, you can have 25 chickens on your property.”
Manuel’s Tavern, an Atlanta bar, raises chickens on its roof and is certified to sell its eggs in the restaurant. Chickens and other fowl are allowed in the city of Atlanta. An Atlanta ordinance states 4 square feet is needed for every individual chicken and up to 75 are allowed on a “single premises.”
Pond is “shocked and dismayed” and doesn’t understand why Birrell and Lee want to revisit the issue.
“With other things that could be addressed why is (Birrell) spending her time trying to repeal an ordinance that was just passed last year,” Pond said.
Pond and Birrell have a history of disagreement.
He filed two ethics complaints against Birrell claiming she violated the county’s ethics code by failing to show impartiality on his variance case for backyard chickens and gave false testimony during her ethics hearing.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation also opened an investigation after Pond asked Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds and Sheriff Neil Warren to investigate Birrell.
Birrell was cleared of all charges.
She says her attempt to repeal the chicken ordinance doesn’t stem from Pond’s accusations or a desire on her part to retaliate.
“It has nothing to do with that,” Birrell said. “I was cleared under any of the ethics and GBI investigation. That has nothing to do with that.”
Birrell voted against allowing hens on smaller lots in the beginning, and she says her position hasn’t changed.
“Everybody knows my record,” she said.
Commissioner Helen Goreham, who represents northwest Cobb, said she doesn’t support tossing the ordinance out and said she was “kind of shocked” to see it proposed.
Though Goreham’s district is the most rural part of the county, she had just one applicant seek a variance for chickens last year.
“From my district’s standpoint, the code appeared to work. I had only one approval so it’s kind of difficult to make a blanket comment about it,” Goreham said. She said her stance on the ordinance hasn’t changed since she voted to approve it last year.
A second alternative has been proposed at the request of the zoning board that would not undo allowing chickens on lots under 2 acres but would clarify what applicants have to do to get approval.
As it stands now, written consent or opposition of adjacent homeowners is required for consideration by the zoning board.
Instead of requiring written opinions, a proposed code amendment would require the zoning board to take into consideration the impact on nearby property and the support, or lack of support, from the homeowners association to which the applicant belongs.
Pond supports that choice and said since the code has only been on the county books for a year, it’s understandable that minor changes may be needed.
“This has been a learning process for us,” Pond said. “This has been a learning process for the county.”