This week the Board of Commissioners tweaked its year-old code governing the subject after debating the matter for months.
Prior to 2013, the county required property owners to have at least 2 acres before they could raise poultry.
But Joseph Pond, an east Cobb plumber and founder of the Backyard Chicken Alliance of Cobb County, led the charge to overturn that ban.
In February 2013, commissioners voted 3-2 with JoAnn Birrell and Tim Lee opposing, to create a pathway that would allow property owners with fewer than 2 acres to have hens.
That amendment said the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals could grant a variance for hens, allowing one hen per 5,000 square feet.
The appeals board could grant the variance after the applicant paid a $150 fee. The matter would then advance to commissioners for final approval or be quashed at the appeals board level.
Over the last year, Rob Hosack, the county’s community development director, said the county had six applications for hens, of which only two were approved.
Hosack said there were a few instances where the appeals board thought the 2013 code was open to interpretation. The board was confused, for example, about whether the neighborhood homeowners association had to approve the application.
On Tuesday commissioners voted 4-1, with JoAnn Birrell opposed, to throw out the unclear language.
A homeowners association will be notified of an application, but does not have a veto. Commissioners also clarified an applicant must send letters of notice to owners whose property adjoins the applicant’s.
And the application fee was lowered from $150 to $100.
Hosack hopes to have the new applications ready for those who are interested in applying in the next two weeks.
Pond pronounced himself pleased by the changes.
“As far as what was voted on this year, I’m very happy they fixed the language, that they clarified things and moved things forward on a logical path,” Pond said.
Birrell said she objected that neighbors across the street wouldn’t be notified under the new code change.
“I see no reason why that shouldn’t have stayed,” Birrell said. “It’s only notification. It’s not saying that they approve or don’t approve.”
Pond, who is running against Birrell in the May 20 Republican primary, believes Birrell lacks respect for property rights.
“From the statements that she’s made she clearly does not have a good understanding of what property rights are,” Pond said. “She makes the statement over and over and over again that people move to Cobb County with certain expectations and one of those expectations are that they would not be living next to chickens. However, they also moved to Cobb County with the expectation that they would have one of the best police departments in the state and that the school system would be the best that it could be. Those standards have fallen and she’s not nearly as concerned about those, but she’s concerned that someone has a pet chicken.”
Birrell said property owners who don’t want to see or hear chickens also have rights.
“The folks who bought their homes, purchased their homes with the 2-acre minimum, what about their property rights?” Birrell asked. “They’re abiding by the code and they have rights, too, and I do understand why people think it is a property rights issue as far as being able to do what you want on property you own, and I understand that, but you have to look at the impact to your neighbors.”
Birrell said she has been consistent in her position throughout the yearslong chicken debate.
“I truly believe that 2-acre minimum in Cobb County is appropriate,” she said. “You know the density, especially in District 3, a half an acre or a quarter of an acre is not appropriate to have
Time will tell if this is the end of the Cobb County chicken debate.
“I would say that May 20 would be a large deciding factor in that,” Pond said.