To Keep or Not to Keep?

eribeck79

Hatching
6 Years
Apr 29, 2013
4
0
7
I live in Rome, GA, a smallish town that ten years ago adopted a "unified land development code" that states "no livestock" inside the city limits on residential property. We went through a months-long process of trying to get a special use permit to keep our four hens for educational purposes because we homeschool our children. We had the hens for three years when our neighbor, who was aware of them the whole time, suddenly reported them rather than telling us she no longer liked them going - on occasion and under our supervision - onto the edge of her property (a strip of land about 6 feet wide from her property line to her fence).

It became a huge issue with all the elderly neighbors getting riled up and writing letters of opposition - all based on unfounded fears, of course, like "we're going to become one big barnyard" and disease concerns, but mostly just "it's the law, and this family is a bunch of lawbreakers!" The city actually looked at it from a standpoint of making a chicken ordinance in the city. The suggested one - at first - was good. But then some of the council members added in a land area requirement to be considered for all permits for chickens. Four of the commissioners voted for hens to be allowed on all lots that are 12,000 sq ft and larger - which is a great start, because that covers most of our town's residential lots. However, five voted against this and instead changed it to 30,000 sq ft (.69 acre) which passed 5-4. Then they voted us down because we only have 1/3 acre. The .69 acre suggestion makes it so very few - maybe only 20some percent - of the city residents have lots that would qualify. However - they also have a 30 foot buffer from property lines as part of the suggestions. We can actually meet this buffer - but the lot size excludes us. I would love to be able to make a case for discrimination (why can somebody who can afford 30,000 sq ft be able to put his coop 30 feet from his neighbor's property, but I am not allowed to on less land even though it is physically possible?), but realistically couldn't pay a lawyer to fight the city. Anyway, I have learned firsthand what the phrase "you can't fight city hall" means. One commissioner offered to meet with me to answer my questions but then backed out, saying I could email my questions, and now they are being ignored. Another made what I believe to be a false claim (that a large number of children have died from salmonella in backyard hens specifically) refuses to provide the source for this "research" of his.

Anyway, one commissioner who voted against us at least gave us a verbal "generous amount of time" to find a new home for our hens. When asked what that meant, he said, "90 days?" It has now been 90 days. The neighbor who complained in the first place - her daughter told me after the final vote that "they didn't mean for this to go so far" and that they "wouldn't say anything else - are the people who live behind you okay with you having chickens?" I don't trust her on this though, as her mother and another neighbor have said she's bipolar. We have a six foot privacy fence on that side now, so they can't see them at least.

The commissioners themselves admitted that this is "citizen enforced" and that they don't do anything unless a complaint is made. This all really makes me want to keep them - the fact that it was so close of a vote, what the neighbor said, and the fact that the no votes were pretty uninformed and were voting to "keep up appearances" because they think the town should be run like a neighborhood homeowner's association. But does that send the wrong message to my children - that we break local codes because they are poorly written - and we disagree with them? I want them to respect authority, but I also want them to think for themselves and learn the value of families doing for themselves, taking care of their own health and nutrition on a small scale, and to value personal property rights.

Funny thing is, our neighbor six houses down wants to take them for us. We can give them away and then it is no longer our propblem, and he can pick the fight back up if somebody reports him.

It is just hard to decide what to do... I hate feeling controlled by my own neighbors and ignored by some of the local elected officials. And the energy to try to keep up a grassroots effort of involvement is exhausting!

Any tips on what to do to continue the fight, the ethical implications of ignoring or complying with the code, or whether there is a chance that legal action might work in terms of the discrimination angle?
 

eribeck79

Hatching
6 Years
Apr 29, 2013
4
0
7
I will add that we looked into our local ordinances before getting the chickens - we called the city planning office and were told by the lady there that "yes, technically you can't have chickens in the city limits, but we're not going around patrolling for chickens. If you don't get reported, you should be fine." We have since learned that she, the city manager, and the assistant city manager are all pro-backyard hen. It is just five of the nine commissioners that have made it so very few can own chickens in the city at this point.
 

Howard Stern

Hatching
6 Years
Apr 29, 2013
3
0
8
Maybe go to your city office and tell them that they are not livestock but they are your pets! In my City of Oak Harbor Wa. before they voted to ok chickens, you had to say they were your pets, just say you don't eat the eggs! Are you allowed to have exotic birds as pets in your town? For it to consist of livestock it has to produce food for your family I think? Just an idea to maybe prolong them making you get rid of your babies. Or maybe just enough bending of the stupid law so the council members aren't sure weather you can keep them or not! LOL
 

eribeck79

Hatching
6 Years
Apr 29, 2013
4
0
7
Yes, we did argue that they are our pets - we stood in front of the city commission and told them that these are basically pets who happen to lay eggs. We would never plan to eat the chickens themselves. They apparently can't get past the image of farm animals even though we showed them photos of our kids holding them, talked about them as pets, etc. I think the laws in GA are pretty limiting as to what exotic pets can be owned; I tried to research that and couldn't come up with much of anything. I do think that is the best bet now, if I can find some way to get an exotic pet permit. I called the city office asking about that and they didn't know; they said it was probably a federal permit that would allow for exotic animals (which sounded idiotic to me - and all I can find is info on the state level).
 

Howard Stern

Hatching
6 Years
Apr 29, 2013
3
0
8
Yeah it sounds like you are dealing with a bunch of morons! It is so sad that the elected people are idiots for the most part! Unfortunately if someone has two brain cells to rub together they know public service is a waist of their time! SO you only end up with people that don't really have anything going on in their life, they probably wanted to do something to change the world and they forgot they were stupid! LOL

In Oak Harbor they had a law on the books that covered "exotic" birds. No license was needed, parrots, pheasants and the likes of those fell into the "exotic pets" section of the law. It doesn't sound like your council is going to cut you any slack. I know that our laws just recently changed and that took a year!

Once again I am sorry to hear, I couldn't imagine having to tell my son that we can't have our chickens anymore.
 

Howard Stern

Hatching
6 Years
Apr 29, 2013
3
0
8
I was just reading here
http://www.romenews-tribune.com/pag...to+chickens+in+residential+areas &id=12692674

In the article it does point out how dumb your council members are! Maybe if you gathered enough votes through town? get the kids and get a petition for people to sign? Take that to the next council meeting? Chickens in the road? The whole town smelling like poo? Well I guess if the whole town really got out of control at the very worst you would have to hire a new animal control guy to run around town and catch all the wild chickens! LMAO
 

eribeck79

Hatching
6 Years
Apr 29, 2013
4
0
7
Yes, and that article was actually from a year earlier - our case was just this year/last fall... at least we made some headway in getting them to say they can grant permits on 30,000 sq feet... better than absolutely nothing - but first off, I don't think you should have to apply for a permit if you already meet their standards of lot size, etc., and the number of homes that qualify for the large lot size is quite small! I was just doing a search over the past two days to see, realistically, which homes were for sale that had the potential for my family to move into and also had the right lot size requirements... well, I found TWO homes in the entire city limits that I could afford, are the right size homes for my family, and have a lot over 30,000 sq feet... and one of them is a no go because it has a huge pond taking up the entire back yard (not safe for my toddler, in my opinion) and the other one would need tens of thousands of dollars in repairs and renovations from the looks of the pictures. I could only find one suitable house in the whole county that would meet their requirements of 100 feet on either side of the coop (rules written for commercial farms; the county has nothing on the books regarding residential pet hens!). I think the 30,000 sq ft lot size rule is discriminatory - and I never throw that word around lightly!
 

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