Lookout Mountain, Ga., delays vote on backyard chickens

Lookout Mountain, Ga., delays vote on backyard chickens

January 19th, 2018 by Rosana Hughes in Local Regional News

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LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN, Ga. — The mountain's backyard chickens still have a fighting chance to stay, at least until the next city council meeting.

Members of the Lookout Mountain City Council will vote at their next meeting on whether to amend a 30-year-old ordinance that bans chickens on any property smaller than 5 acres. On Thursday, they heard from two residents who proposed the amendment and who argue there are benefits to raising backyard chickens.

For years, people on the mountain have been keeping chickens on their properties, and not everyone's property is 5 acres or bigger. It was just something that was forgotten about and never enforced. That is, until a woman on Cinderella Road called 911 on Sept. 29, 2017, to complain about the noise.

Justin Workman and Elizabeth Forrester's roughly six-page proposal covered several bases, including parameters for proper chicken housing, location on property, annual permit fees, predator-proofing and a fact sheet to "debunk the myths" people may have about keeping chickens.

"The idea is to set really high standards for people that are going to have chickens," Workman said. "You want to limit health and safety issues [and] ensure that everybody is acting properly and you don't have a few bad apples, kind of ruining it, potentially, for people."

Workman and Forrester said they researched other cities and neighborhoods across the country that have adopted backyard chicken ordinances, including larger areas like Buckhead in Atlanta, an area with high property values.

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Under the proposed ordinance, a suggested permit fee of $100 would be charged, with reduced annual renewal fees. Enclosures would have to be in backyards only, out of sight from the street and at least 50 feet away from neighboring property lines.

Properties would have to be inspected to ensure that the proper housing and other requirements are being met to ward off predators, such as coyotes.

Councilman Tony Towns had several concerns, one of which was whether the city would have enough manpower to properly police the regulations.

"We just don't have the resources to ensure that a coop is built properly," Towns said.

Forrester suggested considering the formation of a citizen club or organization that meets regularly and to require attendance in order to receive a permit. People could share educational tips for how to best care for the chickens, but it wasn't clear how the group would help enforce any regulations.

Another stipulation in the proposal is that people would not be allowed to slaughter their chickens for food, even after a hen quits laying eggs.

"They're pets," Forrester said. "You have to keep them around."

Council members had concerns about how complaints could be addressed. Workman said most complaints have to do with noise, which is something that comes with having roosters. He suggested limiting the ability to have a rooster to properties that are over 3 acres and also limiting the amount of hens people can own.

"You're not going to go out there and just keep trying to produce more and more chickens," Workman said. "You're only doing it for eggs, and you don't need a rooster to lay eggs. The hens lay eggs all the time."

Another concern voiced several times was the possibility of loss of property value.

"There are people who do mean well, who have awful taste," Councilman Jim Sabourin said. "I either have been or know somebody who's looked at selling a house and have been told by Realtors, 'Good luck. You're not going to sell it with that next to you.'"

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To that, Forrester said there is no data to indicate a correlation between allowing chickens in a community and a decrease in property value.

Regardless of the argument presented in favor of chickens, the council as a whole was split on the matter. Two council members were completely against the idea, two were in favor and one decided to take more time to study the idea before voicing his opinion.

Councilwoman Taylor Watson said she could not, in good faith, vote in favor of chickens due to the majority of her constituents being against it and because she developed health issues because of owning chickens in her childhood.

"The chickens are going to poop, and the poop is going to dry, and the fungus of histoplasmosis is in the air," she said. Histoplasmosis is an infection caused by inhaling spores of a fungus often found in bird and bat excrement, according to the Mayo Clinic.

But Councilwoman Caroline Williams said she thinks the council owes it to the citizens to let them try legally allowing chickens on their property.

"I think the reason that people are against it is out of fear," she said. "... I think that if we don't do this, we are going to coin ourselves as the city of 'no.'"

Mayor David Bennett decided to postpone the vote until the next meeting, and he asked each council member to really study the matter well beforehand and be prepared to make a final decision.

If the council votes to move forward with the new ordinance, it will have to take steps to ensure it is in line with Georgia state laws.

Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.