Questions Linger for Backyard Chicken Foes

Cobb commissioner JoAnn Birrell explained the ordinance change to the East Cobb Civic Association.

The day after the Cobb Board of Commissioners voted to adjust its code for chicken owners on small residential lots, opponents of the measure still had plenty of questions.

At a Wednesday meeting of the East Cobb Civic Association, District 3 commissioner JoAnn Birrell outlined the new policy before an audience that wasn't thrilled to absorb the news.

The ECCA opposed the changes, which would permit owners to apply for a variance that would allow them to keep one female chicken -- but no roosters -- per 5,000 square feet of property.

Applicants also must provide written consent from two adjacent neighbors, either in support of or in opposition to their petition.

Birrell and Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee voted against the change, but it passed 3-2.

She told the ECCA group that applicants must get variance approval from the Cobb Board of Zoning Appeals and the county commission. If the BZA rejects an application, that decision can be appealed in court.

Previously, applicants had to prove a hardship case in order to keep chickens on less than two acres of land. A variance request costs $150 to file, and any variance that is approved is good for two years.

"They've been given a window to keep the chickens," Birrell said. "This eliminates the hardship."

Birrell and Lee said they opposed the change because it would apply countywide, even in more densely populated areas where additional poultry might be more of a noise and odor factor.

ECCA president Jill Flamm, who attended Tuesday's meeting and spoke in opposition, asked Birrell:

"What if I still see chickens [in violation of the current ordinance]?"

Birrell replied that Cobb code enforcement would come and issue a citation to a chicken owner, who would then be able to apply for a variance.

For nearly two years, changing the ordinance has been the abiding activity for Northeast Cobb resident Joseph Pond, who was featured in a victorious profile Wednesday in The Marietta Daily Journal.

The founder of the Backyard Chickens Alliance spoke about the agony of having to turn over a dozen hens to friends south of Atlanta after being cited by code enforcement and losing an appeal in court.

"I cried my eyes out all the way down to East Point," he said.

Pond's fight for the ordinance change, which he detailed recently on Patch, included filing an ethics complaint against Birrell.

In an interview with WABE, Pond was ecstatic.

“About hour ago it really hit me, the euphoria of being part of the process of changing a law in a county with 700,000 people.”

Lee was concerned about setting a precedent that might inspire advocates for other non-traditional animal owners. That issue also was on the minds of ECCA members.

"Variances don't set precedents, zonings do," Birrell said.

After a few more questions about the chickens, she smiled briefly and said: "Don't y'all want to talk about anything else?"


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