The city of Red Bank changed its backyard chicken law in 2021 to allow more residents the opportunity to keep chickens on their property, but some citizens say the requirements still prevent the majority of people who want chickens from having them.
Resident Cortney Bonner told city commissioners at their Dec. 2 meeting that she previously had chickens on her property but got rid of them after receiving a letter from city officials because her property is smaller than the minimum lot size of a half acre required to keep chickens in the municipality.
Many residents who have lots smaller than a half acre have chickens, but no one knows about them because the chickens are hidden from view, Bonner said.
Commissioner Pete Phillips told Bonner no one has applied for a permit to keep chickens since the commission changed the city's chicken ordinance nearly two years ago, she said.
The commission voted in 2021 to decrease the minimum lot size for keeping chickens from 2 acres to a half acre in an effort to allow more residents of Red Bank, where the average lot size is one-third of an acre, the ability to keep chickens while still maintaining at least a 25-foot setback from neighboring property lines.
"I'm just wondering if the people who would apply for those (permits) are the people who have less than 0.5 acres of land," Bonner said, adding that she is willing to do whatever she can to help get the ordinance changed because she would like to get chickens again.
At the same meeting, another resident, Davis Guedron, told commissioners he and two of his neighbors all have one-third-acre lots, and both of his neighbors would like to have chickens.
He previously had asked city officials if he could combine his property with each of his neighbors' properties so both of his neighbors could get separate permits to keep chickens, but he was told that would not be an acceptable workaround, he said.
"I'm fully down to lessen the acreage requirements on the chicken ordinance," Guedron said. "I think a quarter of an acre is probably going to grab a lot of people that would like to have chickens that currently can't, and that probably includes a lot of the properties in Red Bank."
The City Commission is considering decreasing the lot size requirement, Mayor Hollie Berry said by phone.
"When we changed the chicken ordinance initially to half an acre, I was pushing for a lower acreage requirement at that time," she said. "That was still excluding a majority of residents, including quite a few who objectively have enough room for chickens and can meet all the setback requirements."
Since the 2021 change to the chicken law, citizens have consistently requested that the commission change the law again to further decrease the minimum lot size requirement, Berry said.
In addition to meeting the lot size requirement, residents who want a chicken permit are required to prove they have a sturdy and well-constructed chicken coop that's safe and protected from predators and at least 25 feet from any neighboring property line, she said.
"The key, I think, to minimizing any kinds of neighborly disorder, is just distance from neighbors' property, but there are quite a few people who have a third of an acre or less who would easily be able to meet the 25-foot setback requirements on all sides," Berry said, adding that the city has no plans to allow anyone in Red Bank to have chickens with no limitations. "If you have a postage stamp yard, you're still probably not going to qualify. But we're at least trying to get it where the majority of people who are interested in having chickens, and have a reasonable amount of property to do it responsibly, can do so if they choose."
Requirements for having backyard chickens vary widely among Chattanooga-area municipalities.
The town of Signal Mountain also requires a 25-foot setback from neighboring properties -- among other requirements -- but does not mandate a minimum lot size.
The town of Lookout Mountain only requires residents maintain a sanitary enclosure for their chickens and prevent them from roaming at large.
The city of Chattanooga requires a lot size of at least 5 contiguous acres for new chicken permits on land not zoned for agriculture, and the city of Collegedale allows chickens only on agriculturally zoned land.
Some area municipalities, such as East Ridge and Rossville, prohibit all residents from having chickens in their city limits.
The change to the Red Bank chicken law could come before the City Commission for a vote at its next meeting at 6 p.m. Jan. 17 in the commission chambers at 3117 Dayton Blvd. and may be discussed during the panel's work session at 5 p.m. at the same location.