It could soon become much easier for Cobb residents to tend backyard chickens, whether their neighbors like it or not.
Under the proposed change, people with fewer than 80,000 square feet can keep one chicken for every 5,000 square feet in their backyard without seeking a permit from the Board of Commissioners.
Currently, homeowners with less than 2 acres, or about 87,000 square feet, have to request a temporary land-use permit and notify their immediate neighbors in writing of their plans. Such permits cost $75 and last, at most, two years. Renewing such permits costs $50.
The amendment was sponsored by commissioners Keli Gambrill of west Cobb, Bob Ott, of east Cobb and Lisa Cupid of south Cobb. Sponsoring an amendment to the county code does not necessarily mean commissioners will vote in favor of the change, simply that they think the issue is worth discussing.
Gambrill said she supports the measure.
“I think it’s a positive step in the right direction,” she said. “To me, chickens are good for the environment, they help reduce bugs, they’re not really loud and noisy like dogs would be barking, plus their eggs are great, and the code is only going to allow hens.”
On the other side of the proverbial fence is north Cobb Commissioner JoAnn Birrell who, in years past, fought changes that made it easier to own chickens. (In February 2013, she and then-chairman Time Lee voted against an amendment that allowed residents with fewer than two acres to have chickens by applying for a variance through the Board of Zoning Appeals.)
She has since softened her stance; in an interview this week, Birrell said she is not opposed to the idea of owning chickens, but to the fact that someone could put them in his or her backyard without neighbors’ buy-in.
“That’s the concern I have: It gives anybody and everybody kind of a blanket permission to have chickens without any discussion or notice even to their surrounding neighbors,” she said. “We have approved chickens on less than two acres in the past, and I think it has to be done on a case-by-case basis. We just approved a goat and a sheep in my district last year in under 2 acres.
“It just — I think that your neighbors have a say, they have property rights too,” she continued. “It is kind of hard for me to support it as it’s currently written, but I’m not saying it couldn’t be modified.”
In addition to eliminating the permit requirement, the amendment would reduce the number of feet that a coop must be located from the property line. Under current county code, any chicken coop must be at least 30 feet from neighbors’ property line; if the amendment is approved, it would only have to be 25 feet away.
The amendment also stipulates that homeowners association rules prevail; in communities where chickens are banned, they would still be banned in the event that commissioners approve the amendment.
Gambrill said she hopes people don’t take advantage of any loosening of rules and have the pendulum swing in the opposite direction toward a tightening of the rules surrounding backyard chickens.
“I know people love my cookies,” she said. “And I use farm-fresh eggs, that’s the only difference.”