Chicken advocate finally wins fight to keep his fowl
by Jon Gillooly
February 28, 2013 12:03 AM | 6985 views | 23 23 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Joseph Pond of east Cobb no longer has to worry about having his beloved hens taken from him.<br>Staff/Emily Barnes
Joseph Pond of east Cobb no longer has to worry about having his beloved hens taken from him.
Staff/Emily Barnes
slideshow
Pond formed the Backyard Chicken Alliance to try to change the county code banning chickens on lots smaller than 2 acres<br>Staff/Emily Barnes
Pond formed the Backyard Chicken Alliance to try to change the county code banning chickens on lots smaller than 2 acres
Staff/Emily Barnes
slideshow
East Cobb’s Joseph Pond, who led the charge to allow suburbanites to raise chickens on small residential lots, was flying high Wednesday in the upper atmosphere of a political victory. But he stopped short of gloating.

“Did we get everything we wanted?” Pond said. “No. Did we expect to? No. But I was very impressed with Commissioner (Bob) Ott’s statements that this is a beginning.”

A divided Board of Commissioners OK’d a code change that allows residents who want to have hens on fewer than 2 acres to apply for a $150 variance with the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals. If the zoning board rejects the request, it stops there and the alternative is to appeal to the Cobb Superior Court. If the zoning board grants the request, it must be ratified by the Board of Commissioners.

County development director Rob Hosack said the variance lasts for two years before the resident must renew. It allows one hen per 5,000 square feet. Roosters are not permitted.

“If you have an acre of land, you could probably have eight birds,” Hosack said.

That translates to four hens on a half-acre lot. Even a subdivision dweller on a tiny lot of 0.25 to 0.33 acres could theoretically raise two birds.

Hosack said it makes sense to consider reducing the application fee upon renewal of the variance, which is something his staff will consider.

The board voted 3-2 in favor of chickens, with county chairman Tim Lee and commissioner JoAnn Birrell opposed. Chickens got a thumbs up from commissioners Helen Goreham, Lisa Cupid and Ott.

Lee takes stand against chickens

In arguing against the code change, Lee said Cobb has gone too far down the road of urbanization to turn back now.

“I believe that if we adopt this ordinance it would be an open door to a slope that would find this board considering almost every other kind of animal imaginable,” he said.

Pond said his chicken problem with the county began in the summer of 2011, when his neighbor, Carole Kell, who lives on a hill overlooking his backyard, complained to Commissioner JoAnn Birrell about his dozen pet hens he kept on his half acre.

“As Carole told me, she called her ‘good friend the commissioner’ to inquire about their legality because she was concerned that they were going to ruin her property value,” Pond said.

Kell, a prominent member of the community whose late husband is the namesake of Kell High School and whose son is Cobb Superior Court Judge Tain Kell, declined to comment for this article.

After being cited by code enforcement, Pond was given the option of getting rid of his hens, applying for a variance or appealing to Cobb Superior Court. That’s when he formed the Backyard Chicken Alliance to try to change the county code banning chickens on lots smaller than 2 acres. But the Board of Zoning Appeals denied his variance request.

“The way the code was written and as policy for the BZA, they say they don’t issue variances in cases of animals because they were under the opinion that it would circumvent the code,” Pond said.

An appeal to Cobb Superior Court was also rejected.

“The weekend after Thanksgiving 2011, I had to remove the birds from my property,” Pond said.

He dropped them off with an acquaintance in East Point.

Bonding with birds

“We were very emotionally attached because most we had raised from baby chicks,” he said. “It was horrible. I cried my eyes out all the way down to East Point.”

Pond filed an ethics complaint against Birrell, claiming she violated the county’s ethics code by failing to show impartiality on the variance case, although the county’s seven-member ethics board cleared Birrell of the charge in a unanimous vote in December.

On Tuesday night, residents packed the Board of Commissioners’ meeting room, many wearing yellow shirts in support of the code change.

Speaking to the board in favor of backyard chickens, Ray Palermo of east Cobb said he didn’t see what all the fuss was about.

“You can go to the tony neighborhoods of Atlanta, be it Druid Hills, Buckhead, the Emory area, and there’s literally chickens running around in people’s backyards,” Palermo said. “No one has to regulate them. They seem to get along. My daughter lives there. She has chickens next door to her. She doesn’t choose to raise chickens but her neighbor gives her eggs. I can’t believe that we’re even having this discussion over chickens.”

Dogs and cats carry more risk

Veterinarian Mitzi Levine of east Cobb brought up a comment commissioners made at a previous meeting about missing the public hearing on account of bird flu.

“The fact of the matter is bird flu, also known as avian influenza, has never been diagnosed in North America,” Levine said.

Levine said while cats, the most popular household pet, have 26 diseases that can infect humans and dogs have 36 transmissible diseases, that doesn’t prevent people from having them as pets.

“Birds by nature are very clean animals and are constantly grooming and cleaning themselves,” Levine said. “The reality is very few infectious diseases of the avian species, which includes poultry, are zoonotic diseases. So now that the myth is expelled, and you are educated in zoonotic diseases, you can see that you are very unlikely to contract bird flu or any other disease from poultry. You will need to come up with a different excuse to miss the meeting.”

Anxious to apply for permits

Now that the code change has been approved, Pond said many in his group are eager to apply for the variance.

“Going forward we have to look at it as our opportunity to shine,” Pond said. “We have to do what is expected of us so that we can a year, two years from now reapproach them about expanding what they’ve come up with.”

As for whether Ms. Kell can expect to see hens again when looking out her window in the near future, “That’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility,” Pond said.

Comments
(23)
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mary kirkendoll
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March 01, 2013
Correction-

free range, healthy chickens- GOOD!

illegals living good in Cobb -BAD!
Teafortwo
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February 28, 2013
Thank you to Joseph Pond for making headway in what will simply have to be an honest overthrow of the ordinance regarding chickens. Those of us who will have chickens in our yards in the near future will demonstrate what our neighbors in Buckhead and Sandy Springs and other communities nearby already know: having a few backyard chickens isn't going to bring down property values. It isn't going to bring rusting tractors out into lawns. And I got rid of my clothesline because of my allergies, not because I cared a whit about what my neighbors thought about it. It's my property, I pay taxes to be here, and I'm gonna have chickens. Thanks to the efforts of the Backyard Chicken Alliance, we're a little closer to what should have been all along.
Farm Living
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February 28, 2013
If I drove into a Cobb subdivision or neighborhood where there were chicken coups I would not buy a home there. One might buy in Buckhead where the values appreciate quickly because of location and even crime or traffic gridlock does not deter buyers in those areas. But if you are not in a very well to do neighborhood like Druid Hills, Buckhead or the Emory area, but rather just an average one in Cobb chances are the chickens will have a significant affect on the ability to sell your home. This is not speculation but fact and I am just one example among I suspect would be a good portion of home buyers. There is no argument that that is the case, just read the comment against Chickens here.
Michel Phillips
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February 28, 2013
This is America. Freedom to do your own thing is a value--i.e., it's valuable. People who think freedom makes land less valuable perhaps are living in the wrong country.

Of course that has limits. Those limits are enforced via nuisance law. If your chickens (or dogs, or music, or power tools) unreasonably interfere with your neighbor's enjoyment of his property, then your neighbor has an adequate remedy through nuisance law. We don't need special chicken restrictions.
East Cobb Dweller
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February 28, 2013
This idea about property values is so silly. I guess you might want to run down to Buckhead and grab up a house for cheap...cause you know how much their property values have dropped because backyard chickens are legal there...no variance needed.

Neimans sold a 100,000.00 chicken coop in their Christmas catalogue, or you could be frugal and buy the 900.00 dollar version from Williams Sonoma.

I would respect your opinion more "TEXAS" if you had any knowledge on the topic. Go on a coop tour in Decatur or Buckhead and I think you will quickly see how wrong you are.

And yes, the BOC did throw the BCA a "bone" ...and I for one plan to approach this by doing everything possible to replace Lee and Birrell when the next elections come. The simple fact that they publicly stated their position against backyard chickens before even hearing all the evidence and listening to the people speak at the BOC meetings confirms that they do not serve the people who elected them.
Ron McClellan
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March 01, 2013
East Cobb Dweller, you're on the right track with Lee and Birrell. One opportunity to send a clear message to Lee was virtually ignored by the BCA, and it wasn't because they weren't informed.

If ya want to be more proactive than BCA, visit the Georgia Chickens facebook page. This Cobb BOC thing could have, and should have, went a LOT better for Backyard chicken people. When you use mediocre political tactics, you get mediocre results, and this was a textbook example of that.
Edith Egglady
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February 28, 2013
Watch John Waters "Pink Flamingos" and get a different feel for backyard chickens.
Southern Patriot
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February 28, 2013
A very sensible decision, it wasn't long ago that Cobb County was mostly rural. Then the invasion spearheaded by Atlanta refugees began, things haven't been the same since. Ah for the Good Old Days!
Kristin Picken
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February 28, 2013
Thank you MDJ for a great article. As a supporter of the Backyard Chickens Alliance of Cobb County I have had a chance to get to know and work with Joseph on this issue. This man spent an incredible amount of time and energy on getting a code change in Cobb County. I can not count the hours he has put in for this cause. He went about it the right way and his persistance paid off. He has also inspired many around him to get involved in local politics. I am proud to know him and call him friend. Great job, Joe!
Ron McClellan
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February 28, 2013
Joseph spend a great deal of time an energy barking up empty trees, and ignoring what actually should have been done. Backyard Chicken Alliance kept asking and groveling, rather than making themselves an actual political force. There were essentially considered "pesky" by the Commission as a whole, and as such were thrown a bone in the hhopes it would shut them up. It appears to have worked, as even in the article, Joseph made it clear he didn't see any reason to do anything for another year or two, other than "to do what was expected of him."

Great . . .if one is a Chinese Citizen, but not for an American, where elected officials "do what is expected of THEM. Joseph led a lot of people down a rather ineffective path. The sooner folks realize that, the sooner they actually do it right. Don't wait a year or two folks, show up at the next commission meeting.
Just Wait
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February 28, 2013
Is this really what Cobb County has sunk to? Of all the issues in the county, state and nation, we're running front page, above the crease articles on backyard chickens. Please rest my weary soul.
ew, nasty.
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February 28, 2013
sick...
I95
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February 28, 2013
I would like to adopt the MULES, JACK AND JILL,

THAT WE THE TAX PAYER'S PAID FOR.

Oh geez
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February 28, 2013
This is an old joke at this point. Not surprising, however, that you are still harping on it.
Ron McClellan
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February 28, 2013
"I cried my eyes out all the way down to East Point."

Really,Joseph?

"Pond said many in his group are eager to apply for the variance. We have to do what is expected of us"

Sorry, but this attitude is weak and simpish, really. We're Americans, we don't "do what is expected of us" . . .we demand our public SERVANTS do what is expected of THEM. Joseph seems satisfied with being a "good little sheeple," eager to submit to asking permission what folks actually have a right to do.

Joseph Pond continues: "a year, two years from now reapproach them about expanding what they’ve come up with."

WRONG tactic, folks. You "reapproach" them at the VERY NEXT council meeting, making it crystal clear that the heavy-handed limitation on birds has NO basis in realities of chickenkeeping, and ANY permit scheme, or submitting for a "variance" at the whim of bureaucrats and/or neighbors for a still ridiculous fee of 150 bucks will not be tolerated.

When folks in Cobb are ready to get serious about keeping chickens without kissing "big brothers" butt, Go the the Georgia Chickens Facebook page.

The County Commission serves YOU, you don't have to "do what is expected of you" . . .like good little socialists.



FROM TEXAS
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February 28, 2013
Just when you thought home prices were coming back now chickens and illegal aliens are good to go in Cobb County. If you’re lucky enough to have backyard chickens next to your house you probably just lost $50,000.00 in home value; maybe they could put clothes lines and hang engine in the back yard as well. Lisa doesn’t like that word illegal alien so what do you call someone that’s taken your job and tax money to support. I guess in Lisa’s world a child molester just a miss understood clown. If it wasn’t for Bob Ott the board would be totally dysfunctional he was the only one that made any sense just remember who voted against American jobs don’t let them forget it.
mary kirkendoll
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February 28, 2013
ditto-

What a seemingly disconnected, dishonest bunch of commissioners running this county right into the ground.

I'm ashamed to live in Cobb.
More of the same
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February 28, 2013
Per usual, From Texas, you have not gathered all the facts and have spouted out ill informed, dramatic claims and comments.

1. You must have your neighbors sign off that it is ok for you to have the chickens. If you don't want them next to you...don't sign off on it. Also a chicken next door is not going to drop the value of your house $50,000.

2. Lisa Cupid, in Tuesday's Commission meeting, said she didn't like the term "illegals" - not, "illegal aliens." She then went on to refer to illegal aliens as "illegal aliens"

3. I am 99% sure that Lisa Cupid does not think a child molester is a misunderstood clown...

4. Bob Ott is precisely the clown on the commission that makes it dysfunctional. Chairman Lee made a case against IMAGE that was far more effective than anything Bob Ott had to say against it. Many people in the room - I was there - changed their minds before they even left.

Time to quit your tired belly aching and put forth next step solutions - Helen Goreham did. Lisa Cupid did...
Ron McClellan
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February 28, 2013
If you’re lucky enough to have backyard chickens next to your house you probably just lost $50,000.00 in home value;

Wierd how that constantly comes up, yet there is virtually no data that backs that ridiculous claim up. On the contrary. what little data that exists shows just the opposite, in fact. Property values do not go down, not even a dollar, let alone the ridiculous figure of fifty grand. As it turns out, living next door to a typical backyard flock of chickens is not the same, as say, living next to a poultry farm, any more than living next door to a person with a few dogs and/or cats is akin to living next door to a state animal shelter, imagine that! On the other issue, An alien that is here illegally is an illegal alien, simple as that. Just being here makes them scofflaws, so the concept "law abiding illegal aliens is an oxymoron.



Margarita S.
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February 28, 2013
...and how much have property values gone down in Buckhead, Druid Hills, the Emory area, and the City of Smyrna? Research facts before spouting off, "From Texas". Your association of backyard chickens with "clothes lines" and "car engines" in the yard shows the type of willfull ignorance that prejudice produces. This all basically boils down to fear & misperceptions coming out of prejudice against people who are not at the same economic level. What you don't realize is that backyard chickens are gaining huge popularity among the affluent, and that a lack of financial affluence does not mean a lack of ability to keep one's yard and pets from being a nuisance to neighbors. Get over your prejudice against what you perceive as "poverty" and join the real world.
mk- 1/2 ditto
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February 28, 2013
I miscommented.

I don't agree w/ Texas about chickens.

I absolutely support backyard chickens!!

But I DO agree with Texas that illegals lower house values and the statement about what do you call someone that's taken your job & tax money!.
anonymous
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February 28, 2013
Mary: We're ashamed you live here, too. That we can all agree on.
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