Athens, Georgia residents!!!!! Please Read...Possible Ordinance Change


12 Years
13 Years
Jan 25, 2007
Athens, Ga/ Hayesville, NC
If you have not seen the Flagpole article about possible changes to the citys ordinances on backyard poultry please read the following

Urban Chickens to be Given a Chance?

originally published May 28, 2008

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“Don’t Seize My Chickens” reads the new bumpersticker on Mary and Michael Songster’s car. Mary made the stickers, along with t-shirts for the whole family, last month after the Songsters ran afoul of the law regarding fowl in Athens-Clarke County. That law prohibits the keeping of chickens in intown single-family zoning districts (among other districts) in Athens, and the Songsters got a hefty ticket this spring from the ACC Community Protection Division (CPD) after a neighbor complained about the four or five chickens in their backyard.

Yes: there are probably a lot of people in Athens who are in violation of that particular code section, but it’s the Songsters who, after getting busted for poultry, have decided to push the issue. “I know of at least eight chickens that could walk to City Hall,” Mary says. “So there’s chickens in town… the further out you go, the less people care.” And while the family’s Cobbham-residing chickens may not have been quite intown-enough to walk to City Hall, they were definitely in a single-family zone (exceptions to the prohibition do exist in the two largest-lot single-family zones, RS-40 and RS-25), and thus the Songsters had no leg to stand on when a code enforcement officer came knocking.

On the topic of code enforcement (as noted in City Dope last month), the Songsters had a few problems with the county simultaneously in April - including an historic-district compliance issue and the now-remedied lack of a certificate of occupancy on their new-ish home - that made for something of a saga. And if hadn’t been for that piling-on of problems, they say, they may well have tried to contest the legality of the chicken ticket in court. Michael says he’s glad they didn’t; in a roundabout, “bumpy” way, after pleading guilty, the family has arrived at a much better place vis-a-vis local chicken law: they’re working to get ACC Commissioners to look at passing an ordinance allowing the keeping of small numbers of chickens (maybe just hens, in fact) in residential zones.

“It’s not exactly the process I would have envisioned,” Michael says, but then again it might be preferable. After getting the chicken ticket in April, he took a look at the definition of “agriculture” in the ACC zoning code, since “agriculture” is the non-permitted activity they were cited for taking part in. The definition, he thought, seemed over-broad: the “production, raising, breeding or maintenance of plants and animals including, but not limited to” all kinds of things - crops, cattle, timber, fruits, vegetables, etc. - including poultry. Even though that makes it seem that tomato plants are illegal too, ACC Attorney Bill Berryman says that’s irrelevant to a citation about chickens. “A person who’s subject to an ordinance on one issue can’t attack it on another issue,” he says, and he declines to discuss hypotheticals. (After all, when’s the last time CPD wrote a ticket for tomato plants?) In other words, nobody wants to get into an argument about the agriculture definition being “over-broad” in the legal sense.

Thus, at this point the Songsters’ goal is not to see the county’s definition of agriculture revised - meaning no court challenge - but to take a legislative tack, and have the Mayor and Commission consider specifically allowing poultry. They already have the ear of District 9 Commissioner Kelly Girtz, who in turn reports that he’s informally surveyed about half of his colleagues on the Commission, receiving a range of responses from enthusiasm to some concern about chickens “roaming the streets,” he says. (That’s a thought that brings up the old Athens story about the reason UGA erected an iron fence around the North Campus quadrangle in the 19th century: to keep residents’ yard cows from grazing there on their daily wanderings.)

Girtz, along with Berryman and the Songsters, has already begun poking around the Internet to see how other towns and cities have approached the chicken issue, and there are plenty of examples out there. Most ordinances are very specific: they limit the number of birds allowed (anywhere from four to 25, typically), as well as any other conditions like location, enclosures and so forth, and many laws prohibit the keeping of roosters for reasons of noise. (For the record, the Songsters did have a rooster at one point; in what may have been the start of their troubles, it was shot. They haven’t investigated.)

Girtz says he’s certainly sensitive to other commissioners’ concerns, as well as those of residents, with opening up the chicken issue; he seems confident, though, that the county can craft an appropriate ordinance if the willingness exists.

“I’m sure the intent of the [present] code is to have people not doing, you know, productive agriculture in town, but it seems overly broad, at least on first reading,” Girtz says. And Craig Page, who started the local nonprofit PLACE last year to support the burgeoning local food movement and has been a key force behind the new Athens Farmers’ Market, has had the push for ordinance revisions like this one on the to-do list for his organization for some time.

If there’s one other thing that a quick look around the Internet at “urban chicken” issues proves, it’s that this is not a question limited to Athens. Towns and cities around the country have changed their poultry rules recently in response to the desires of citizens to be able to have backyard eggs. (South Portland, ME passed an ordinance last summer; an activist family’s website there has a list of other cities’ ordinances at Laws.htm.) And, sure enough, Mary Songster admits that the “Don’t Seize My Chickens” slogan came from an activist’s website in Chicago.

Also for the record: Athens-Clarke County never tried to seize the Songsters’ chickens; it just asked that they be removed from the property. They have been removed, until such time as they may be legal. That might take a little while, especially with the Mayor and Commission occupied with bigger issues like approving the county’s budget for the next fiscal year.

“I don’t expect anything in the next two months,” Girtz says. It will likely be “late summer at the earliest,” he says, before the poultry-in-town issue gets to the Commission for a formal examination.

Ben Emanuel

[email protected]
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In the Brooder
9 Years
Feb 19, 2010
Athens, GA
Resurrecting this post from the dead to find out if there has been any changes since this article. It has now been almost 2 years. I cannot find any new info when I run it through my trusty Google search engine.

Thanks : )


9 Years
Jul 7, 2010
Just registered to learn about chickens, and bumped right into your post. fyi, here is our recent experience & a non-update update:
Son fell in love with chicks wks ago; got 6 (pure white; no idea waht breed) from a friend but lost 1 to hawk; wife spent 3 wks building a large & nice pen/coop. Just when all finished & started to enjoy our new pets, we were paid a visit and served a citation (warning) by Athens-GA CP, plus threat of $1,000 fine and/or jail time if we didn't get rid of them in 2 wks. Son sad/mad/heartbroken, &wife&myself unhappy, so pulled the ordinance (9-7-2) and analyzed it down to the letters. Found no such ban for my RS25 zone I wrote to a commissioner(Girtz); he confirmed the ban w/o any explanation. Unconvinced, I shot another email to the mayor & all the commissioners. Sb must have heard me and intervened (probably the good-hearted Mayor) for 2 days later the county attorney called me that the CP made a mistake--my zone is not included in the ban! Everybody is happy; case closed.
Now the non-update: no luck for most athenians: intown single-family lots are still banned to raise any livestock (chickens included); NOTHING has changed since the 2008 Flagpole article.

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