The Cobb Board of Commissioners opted to table the issue of allowing poultry on small lots at a meeting last week when revisions to the county’s code were considered in bulk.
Commissioners passed an ordinance a year ago allowing chickens on lots with fewer than 2 acres after a bitter battle between some county elected officials and property rights activists.
Though two commissioners wanted to completely reverse last year’s ordinance, the commission is now looking toward passing clearer guidelines about who has to be notified when an application is filed to raise the poultry.
Under the ordinance passed last year, residents who want hens but have less than 2 acres must apply for a $150 variance with the Cobb Board of Zoning Appeals. If the zoning board rejects the request, it stops there unless the resident appeals to Cobb Superior Court. If the zoning board grants the request, it must be ratified by the Board of Commissioners.
Only six residents applied for variance applications for backyard chickens in the year since the ordinance was adopted. Two were rejected in the first round of applications by the zoning board. One was withdrawn before appearing before the zoning board. Another was approved by the zoning board but withdrawn before it made it to commissioners.
Only two were approved by both boards.
It was a 3-2 vote that approved the fowl in 2013 for smaller lots with Commissioner JoAnn Birrell and county Chairman Tim Lee voting no.
Commissioners Bob Ott, Lisa Cupid and Helen Goreham voted in favor of the ordinance.
Unhappy with last year’s revision to the county code, Birrell and Lee proposed overturning the ordinance and returning to the ban on chickens for lots under 2 acres. But no action was taken on reversing the ordinance.
“I wasn’t in favor of changing the code last year,” Birrell told the MDJ before the matter was tabled. “To me, I still feel 2 acres is appropriate. That still allows for the individual to come in and apply for a variance for under 2 acres.”
Now county staffers are drafting an ordinance that would more clearly spell out who has to be notified when a neighbor wants backyard chickens. The county may require applicants seeking a variance for anything, not just backyard poultry, to send letters to all residents within 500 or 1,000 feet notifying them of the application.
As it stands now, written consent or opposition of adjacent homeowners is required for consideration by the zoning board.
Joseph Pond of east Cobb, who led the charge to soften restrictions last year, praised commissioners for not scrapping the issue altogether but said he is wary of requiring applicants to foot the bill for notifying neighbors.
“It would make getting a variance cost prohibitive,” Pond said.
Certified mail costs can add up quickly, Pond said, and that would be in addition to the $150 fee to file a variance application and the $9 spent to post a sign every 500 feet along a property notifying neighbors of the upcoming variance hearing.
“If people are that interested, or if they’re affected by your property, they’re going to see the signs,” Pond said.
Rob Hosack, community development director for Cobb, said nothing is set in stone and county staffers are evaluating the cost implications of requiring applicants to send out notifications.
Pond and Birrell have a history of disagreement, and he’s challenging her for her seat on the county commission.
He filed two ethics complaints against Birrell claiming she violated the county’s ethics code by failing to show impartiality on his variance case for backyard chickens and gave false testimony during her ethics hearing.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation also opened an investigation after Pond asked Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds and Sheriff Neil Warren to investigate Birrell.
Birrell was cleared of all charges and told the MDJ her attempt to repeal the chicken ordinance doesn’t stem from Pond’s accusations or a desire on her part to retaliate.