Catoosa County Commission postpones vote on new backyard chicken regulations to clarify current law

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton /  Bobbi Wilkey hands a chicken to her daughter Nora, 8, at their home in Catoosa County on Friday, September 2, 2022.
Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Bobbi Wilkey hands a chicken to her daughter Nora, 8, at their home in Catoosa County on Friday, September 2, 2022.

After a four-hour discussion with more than 100 citizens in attendance, the Catoosa County Board of Commissioners has voted to indefinitely table the county's proposed ordinance to authorize and regulate the keeping of backyard chickens in residential zones.

The basis of the ordinance relies on County Attorney Chad Young's interpretation that current zoning regulations prohibit chickens in residential zones.

Some residents disagreed with that interpretation, and Board Chairman Larry Black requested the ordinance be tabled for further study and clarification. All but Commissioner Jeff Long voted Tuesday to table the ordinance.

Before voting on the ordinance, the board first needs to hold a meeting to determine which animals should be allowed in residential zones and clear up the definition of nondomesticated animals in the county code, Commissioner Chuck Harris said.

(READ MORE: Catoosa County nears resolution on backyard chicken ordinance after pecking away at it for months)

"I don't think there's a person up here that wants to prohibit the chickens," Commissioner Charlie Stephens said. "We're wanting to make this clear to where it appeases a majority of the people."

Commissioner Vanita Hullander has received phone calls and messages from people who are against allowing chickens in residential areas, she said.

"This started with complaints, which people have the right to complain, and there's no punishing the mass to get to the few," she said. "Everybody needs to be a responsible pet owner, and I don't care where you live as long as you're responsible."

Some residents who spoke at the meeting said the board did not provide adequate legal notice of the public hearing.

Before taking action on a zoning decision, the board is required to hold a public hearing and place a notice of the hearing in a newspaper of general circulation within the territorial boundaries of Catoosa County at least 15 days but not more than 45 days before the hearing, according to county code.

(READ MORE: Catoosa County releases draft ordinance for backyard chickens)

Resident and attorney Christine Lawson said during the hearing that the only notice she could find was posted Feb. 17 on the Catoosa County government Facebook page.

She said a board member also posted on Facebook that chickens are not allowed currently in residential zones, which Lawson said is inaccurate.

"While the county has a current nuisance law that applies to all animals and rules governing personal poultry production, it now, right now, doesn't have any rules governing personal backyard flocks," Lawson said.

Public hearings for all zoning issues are handled by the Planning Commission, which held more than one public hearing about the backyard hen ordinance that fulfilled the notice requirements, Young said at the meeting in response to Lawson's comments.

Young said he also disagrees with the opinion that current zoning regulations do not prohibit chickens in residential zones.

(READ MORE: Catoosa County residents looking for resolution to 'chicken war')

Citizen Rob Nolen said the ordinance amendment for which Tuesday's public hearing was held was first released to the public on Feb. 17 with the agenda for Tuesday's meeting, and a public hearing regarding the ordinance was not held before the Planning Commission.

Restrictions in the proposed ordinance for keeping chickens in residential areas include limiting the number of chickens allowed on a property to six and limiting where chickens are kept to the rear of a property with a minimum distance of 25 feet from adjacent property lines and a minimum of 75 feet from adjacent residential or commercial structures.

"Despite having countless citizens speak out against this, some members of the board appeared determined to enact regulations that remove existing rights," said Nolen, chairman-elect of the Catoosa County Democratic Party. "It should be clear from the overwhelming outcry from each of these successive proposals that the citizens of Catoosa County are united in opposition to this overreach."

Contact Emily Crisman at or 423-757-6508.

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