A public hearing about backyard hen flocks in residential Catoosa County neighborhoods is scheduled for April 18.
Catoosa County leadership said a county board meeting will follow the hearing, and the board is expected to vote on a proposed amendment governing backyard chicken flocks at that meeting. A new draft amendment was released by county officials last week.
"As commissioners, it's our responsibility to listen to both sides on any issue and see how people feel, and that's what we're doing," Larry Black, chairman of the Catoosa County Board of Commissioners, said in a phone interview. "It is an issue that is very emotional to a lot of people."
The public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Catoosa County Administration Building, 800 Lafayette Street in Ringgold.
The draft amendment clarifies the definition of a chicken, sets rules for the size of a flock, where it can be on a property and requirements for the care of hens.
The draft amendment allows up to six chickens in residential zoning districts on property of an acre or less and 12 chickens on larger properties. Other fowl are prohibited, as is slaughtering the chickens on the property or the selling of eggs or chicken-related commerce. Chicken coops would have to be 25 feet from any property line and 50 feet from any adjacent structure.
Backyard chickens became an issue last summer when code enforcement began issuing citations to chicken owners. Chicken supporters often spoke at commission board meetings, even after the citations ceased while county officials researched the issue and considered regulations.
Supporters of chickens cite property rights, freedom and self-reliance, while commissioners and county officials counter there has to be a balance between property owners and the rights of neighbors.
Black also said he thinks the new amendment is fair, and it was designed not to be overly restrictive.
The Catoosa County government made the meeting announcement Wednesday. The draft ordinance is available in print from the clerk of the Board of Commissioners or can be read online at bit.ly/CCchickens.
Another draft amendment was released in early December and covered backyard flocks as well as other topics such as backyard sawmills and commercial poultry operations. Black said the draft ordinance released last week is more focused on backyard chickens.
After the public meeting, Black said he thinks the draft ordinance will be acted on by the board, whether it passes or is changed.
The first five people who sign up will be given 10 minutes apiece to speak at the public hearing, Black said, but anyone can submit written testimony for the commission's consideration.
Posted on the county's website and social media, the advertisement for the hearing said participation limitations for the meeting are governed by public speaking rules adopted by the board and Planning Commission rules in Section 7.03.05G(2) of the Catoosa County Unified Development Code.
After the public hearing, Black said the board will hold its regularly scheduled meeting at 7 p.m.
"There's a good chance what is passed will not satisfy everyone that's pro-chicken or against chickens in residential areas," John Pless, Catoosa County spokesman, said in a phone interview. "There's compromise in there, but right now where it goes from there is up to the commissioners."
Due to the distance requirements in the proposed amendment, chicken coops won't be allowed in neighborhoods where houses are close together, he said.
"I think that was the intent, so that a neighbor doesn't look out their window and have a chicken house right there," Pless said.
Nick Ware, a resident of Tunnel Hill, has backyard chickens and has been a vocal supporter of what he said is the broader issue that people should have the right to make decisions about their own property.
In a text message, Ware said he didn't think the county's commissioners were open to compromise.
"The commissioners are going to do what they want to do, and the only thing the people can do is replace them in the next election with liberty-minded candidates," he said.
Black said he posted a video on his Facebook page asking for more comments on the chicken issue. He said most of the posts were supportive of allowing backyard chickens, but some people have contacted him privately to say they had concerns.
Those opposed to allowing chickens might not want to speak publicly, Black said, because the issue has become so emotional. There were 441 comments on Black's Facebook post, and the two individuals who made comments opposed to chickens did not respond to a request for an interview.
Contact Andrew Wilkins at email@example.com or 423-757-6659.