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Back Up, You're Standing On My Private Property Use Rights

The Backyard Chicken battle is in full flap. It is time for all who believe you, neither the Board nor your neighbor, have authority over your yard.

Some decades ago it was rare to find what we now call a Planned Unit Development (PUD) with a set of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&R) though there were many co-operatives (Co-ops) in more urban areas.

As we have grown into a vastly more populous nation it is now a rarity to encounter many areas, specifically speaking to the state of Georgia, where PUDs with restrictive CC&Rs do not exist.

For the sake of this post we are not even going to consider these areas because those are private contracts between home owners in smaller areas delimited normally by subdivision boundaries. Rather we are considering unincorporated areas of a county, for our purposes Cobb County.

Having been a resident of this county for 53 years, born at Kennestone Hospital in 1959, I have certainly seen many changes. As a young man I remember cattle ranches all over the county as well as some pig farms and a few chicken farms.

My father was a builder and developer who partnered with others in both Cobb-Metro Construction and Allied Commercial Developers. His firm built several subdivisions, many homes and quite a few commercial facilities.

During the time my father was in development and construction there were many zoning and property use changes written into the Cobb County Code. One of those had the sole purpose of driving the rural farmer out of the county so the much more lucrative and well populated subdivisions could take their place.

Making Cobb County an unwelcoming territory for farming was as simple as voting in changes to the code to disallow farming activities on smaller lots. As the county was being subdivided by the thousands of acres this would seal the fate of the farms of the past.

For the setting of the stage let me say that my companies, based in unincorporated Cobb County, have facilitated the transactions of nearly 3,800 single family homes in Georgia either by providing the financing or serving as the real estate brokerage.

This gives me a truly professional view of a couple of the topics out for discussion which are property values and county ordinance comprehension by home buyers.

There has been much discussion of late about private home owners desiring to own a few chickens or ducks as pets and/or a source of nutrition. The initial image which seems to jump to the forefront of people's minds is that of long chicken houses with thousands of commercially raised chickens popping up in back yards everywhere.

The reality of the desire is quite different and actually very welcomed to almost everyone who takes a moment to do a little considering over what these Backyard Chicken people are seeking.

Where is the line in the sand over private property use in unincorporated Cobb which should not be crossed? Is it just chickens or will it be more like the restrictive CC&Rs in PUDs? Perhaps one day you will not be able to use a particular type of porch light because the color or size of the fixture is offensive to your neighbor.

Let us be concerned that you may not be able to plant a particular type of flower, or any plant, in your front yard because it may offend passers-by.

Debunking the poultry objections really is simple though most people truly do not know the facts because, quite simply, they have not spent any time around chickens or ducks.

Let's remember the farms are gone and these Backyard Chicken people are not looking to bring those back. They simply want a few clean, quiet, interesting pets which provide the added benefit of an edible gift every day or two.

Chickens stink. Okay, a few hundred chickens cooped up in a barn eating commercial food full of chemicals and piling their droppings in the same area for weeks on end without cleaning the facility do provide an opportunity for stink. I know because as a young boy we had farm property in Pendergrass, Georgia, with two fryer houses of 4,000 birds each. I also picked up eggs from 22,000 laying hens crammed eight to a cage in two long hen houses in Alma, Georgia. A few clean chickens do not stink. In fact they constantly bath themselves unlike most dogs which constantly stink. (I love dogs by the way.) (1)

Chickens are noisy. Actually a few hens are no noisier than a few neighbors visiting on the lawn and that is at the peak of activity. Only roosters crow and that can be controlled as well as there are existing ordinances governing noises on the books in Cobb. My life experience tells me when hens are undisturbed they are very quiet. They do, however, make great guards and will let you know when someone is "messing with them".

Allow me to quote The Chicken Whisperer, Andy Schneider, from the article referenced in "Chickens stink" above: "To put backyard chickens into perspective I often tell people the following. On any given day I have more dog poop in my front yard from other neighbor’s dogs then they have chicken poop in their front yard from my chickens. I have more cat prints on my car from other neighbor’s cats then they have chicken prints on their car from my chickens. And I’m awakened at 2:00am more from other neighbor’s dogs barking then they have ever been awakened at 2:00am from my sleeping hens." (2)

Chickens are unsanitary. If you place 500 chickens in a 25x25 barn with sawdust on the floor and never clean then chickens most certainly may become unsanitary. A teenagers room with food dishes under the bed and dirty clothes piled in the drawers with clean clothes may also become unsanitary. Pretending all small flock (a few chickens or ducks) owners are going to allow these conditions is an insult. (3)

Chickens attract insects. Yes they do and then eat them! Chickens may be the best pesticide your lawn ever had. They also have the added advantage of fertilizing as they go. Now don't think chickens are "poop machines" because in reality a 40 pound dog can "out-poop" eight chickens. Chickens in fact love earwigs, spiders and fly larvae just to name a few. (4)

Chickens devalue property. Insidious. After polling three respected home appraisers and having decades of experience in the homes industry I can and will testify this is utter nonsense. In fact each of the appraisers indicated they would be much more concerned about neighbors with backyard dogs, some swimming pools and certain playground equipment than chickens.

People move to Cobb County expecting not to have chickens next door. All I can say to this is "unreal". In 3,800 (actually more than that) transactions I have very rarely had the buyer even read the CC&R and only some investors even ask about county ordinances. The only people who are consistent in asking about CC&Rs are investors - not private home owners. Again I can and will testify to this.

Please also introduce yourself to some very nice hen houses and an item called a "chicken tractor". Many of these hen houses will look just as nice in your neighborhood as they would have, were I allowed to have them there before I moved, at my 7,000 square foot million dollar home in East Cobb. In fact many are much more attractive than some of the playground sets I have seen.

In summary we should "put the shoe on the other foot" and ask, are your neighbors truly so distrusting in you (yes I mean you) that you are incapable of handling a few birds in a manner up to their taste? If so where does it stop? Perhaps they do not like the way you mow your lawn or the type of cover you have on your gazebo.

Meanwhile we live in a county where a very small minority of faux-powerful people, but very active and boisterous, are using their own prejudice and petty fears to lord those over the masses.

We have a couple of East Cobbers setting the rules for all 600,000+ residents if this diverse county and are in effect saying you do not have the same level of class as we therefore you are not permitted to enjoy the liberty of yet another joy in life. Truly it is a smack in the face to your integrity, intelligence and freedom.

In the end this is about our own ability to keep up standards, our personal ability to choose how we use our own property legally and ethically and our own choices in pets and lifestyle. The Cobb Board of Commissioners is telling you that your neighbor has more rights in your back yard than you. Next they may come for your chiminea ...

(1) http://www.grit.com/Backyard-Poultry-With-the-Chicken-Whisperer/Backyard-Chickens-Have-Unfair-Reputation.aspx
(2) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SC0yB3LjM0E
(3) http://www.countryviewvets.com/chick/chick_info3.htm
(4) http://www.lifetransplanet.com/backyard-hens-facts-and-faqs-myths-and-reality/ 

I also encourage you to take about three minutes and watch this short presentation to the Cobb Board of Commissioners by Backyard Chicken advocate Joseph Pond http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-J71i44XO20 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Margarita Szechenyi February 21, 2013 at 01:21 AM
Thank you for this very well researched, thoughtful article that addresses both sides of the issue with respect and non-emotional facts. I've been following the work of Joseph Pond and the Marietta Backyard Chicken Alliance for quite some time now, inspired by his similar approach to the subject. It really is about way more than chickens: it's about private property rights. Like you said, a little time spent studying the issue apart from knee-jerk reactions to pre-conceived mental pictures of bad examples, and one can easily see that it only requires the same level of regulation that we currently have for dog ownership to ensure that chickens & ducks can in fact be much less of a potential nuisance than dogs & cats (I love both too). i certainly hope that the Cobb Board of Commissioners will simply change the category of chickens & ducks from "livestock" to "pets" and relax knowing that the animal control ordinances will be just as sufficient for these feathered friends as the furry ones currently enjoyed without so much red tape & fees.
Michel Phillips February 21, 2013 at 03:44 AM
Amen!
Foghorn Leghorn February 21, 2013 at 01:11 PM
Speak for yourselves...nobody wants your damn chickens in our neighborhoods. And odds are you knew the rules when you moved in. Don't like it? Plenty of land in Paulding just waiting for you!
Ann February 21, 2013 at 01:55 PM
I agree with Foghorn Leghorn. Backyard Chicken Alliance needs to stop pushing their liberal agenda on the residents living in Cobb Co. There are other counties in which Backyard Chicken Alliance members can reside - rent a U-Haul and go! Before we know it, our America will resemble the appearance of a third world country - with chickens and shanty towns abound! Not to mention the cost of eradicating a potential bird flu epidemic like the ones they experience in Asia. Give it a rest Backyard Chickens and "go away!"
Michael February 21, 2013 at 05:37 PM
We are so very far from liberal. You can be idiotic in a few short sentences. Try being intelligent and research some stuff. There will be no diseases, other cities (smyrna and decatur) have had chickens in small lots for years and are not overrun with disease. I am very conservative and agree whole heartedly with this group. Dogs are much worse neighbors as pets than chickens could ever be! Get a grip!
Michael February 21, 2013 at 05:46 PM
And some of us are in our only and forever homes, we could no easier move than you two could at being intelligent and civil. I have the right to do with MY land as I wish as long ad I hurt no one. You have the right to put purple drapes up if you want. Stop being such a fascist and get a grip.
dee February 21, 2013 at 06:06 PM
With all due respect, I live in Cherokee County and am allowed to have chickens ( limited amount). That being said I can attest first hand that they do not stink, make noise or attract insects. I am so grateful that I live in a county that allows me to produce, eat and sell eggs that are much healthier and cleaner than any egg you will ever find in a grocery store, layed by chickens that are humanely raised and cared for. In fact I have so many people that want to buy my eggs I cannot keep up with the demand. Everyone within reason should be allowed to raise a few chickens to provide safe, healthy and humanely layed eggs. If YOU do not want chickens..DON'T you have them, but why do you feel that because you do not want them no one else should have them?
Erin February 21, 2013 at 07:14 PM
It is a misconception that people who want backyard chickens to be legal are "liberal." It is actually a very conservative issue: that what does not harm you on your neighbor's private property is his business, not yours. It is a conservative thing to value individual property rights. Yes, this issue appeals to all different political leanings, as those whoa re more liberal tend to be more into the "real food" movement. But I am a conservative, and I have chickens and appreciate the health value of their eggs for my family! Shantytowns?? Having five hens in your backyard is not akin to third world countries. In fact, my property was appraised at a higher value than it had been before, in a down economy, with the appraiser noticing five chickens in my backyard. Just because I want to raise some of my own, healthier food and have unique, danderless pets for my children doesn't mean my house will suddenly fall down and I'll set up some boards and cardboard against a tree for us to live in. ;)
Courtney Deremo February 21, 2013 at 07:27 PM
Yes Ann, we need to keep up "appearances".... seriously?? Liberal agenda? If anything it's REAL conservatives who value their rights that want to be able to have chickens on their property. Key word THEIR property, not YOURS. Third world country? LOL! We're already there with all the people on food stamps and lining up at the welfare office, but God forbid someone want to raise their own food and NOT use gov't assistance. Get a life!
Amy Barnes February 21, 2013 at 07:56 PM
People want US to adhere to THEIR standards... communism has come to America for sure, if people are saying that they have more right to our land than we, the owners.
Rebecca Phalen February 21, 2013 at 08:03 PM
This is not a liberal or conservative agenda. It really falls on both sides -- promoting a sustainable and environmentally friendly lifestyle by allowing people to have access to more nutritious eggs and promoting property rights without government interference. There must be a better answer than to simply wish away people who want chickens. I live in East Cobb, pay taxes, and feel that if I want a few chickens, I should be allowed. Remember, no matter what amendments to the Cobb county code are ultimately passed, it will not override homeowners' associations' covenants. This should be managed at the neighborhood level, not the county level. And, there are existing animal-control ordinances that would take care of any possible complaint regarding chickens. Too noisy? See Sec. 10-9 of the Cobb County Code. Too smelly? See Secs. 10-9 and 10-121. Too messy? See Secs. 10-9 and 10-121. Don't want your neighbors' chickens on your yard? See Secs. 10-11 and 10-121. Keep an eye on how the Commissioners revise the code section, and think about what that says for how they will govern. Will the Board 1) impose a stringent, bureaucratic process and place obstacles in the way of the property owner (including getting consent from neighbors and approving location and type of coop), allowing ECCA to chime in, before any chicken is allowed; or 2) will they assume that Cobb county residents will be responsible pet owners and allow the existing animal-control ordinances to do their work?
Ann February 21, 2013 at 11:38 PM
All it takes is 2 acres. Pony up and purchase the land. No one is stopping you. "The heart is a very deceitful thing, for which there is no cure." Liberals tend to always use their hearts instead of their heads when making decisions. Liberal or Conservative; follow the rules. Again, all it takes is 2 acres and you and your chickens can crow until the cows come home. By the way, my grandfather owned an egg farm in Michigan. Very familiar with the birds. But again, we need to abide by rules, boundries and limitations, or you will create complete anarchary.
Rebecca Phalen February 21, 2013 at 11:54 PM
Part of following the rules is using the process available through petitioning our government to change the code. To take good care of chickens, the experts say that you need 4 square feet of land, so there is a reason to ask for a code change. Asking for a code change--and agreeing that all the animal-control ordinances in place still govern--will not create anarchy.
Annie J. February 22, 2013 at 01:29 PM
1st, thank you very much for this article. 2nd, Foghorn Leghorn and Ann: my husband and I are in our mid-20s. We are engineers, graduating with our masters from Georgia Tech in 2010. We bought a home in Cobb County and contribute considerable taxes. We recently have learned more and more about the local/sustainable food movement and would like to keep chickens but found out that it is illegal to keep chickens on our 0.46-acre lot in an older wooded neighborhood without an HOA. One of my neighbors is seldom at home, and does not maintain his property at all. Many others rent. Meanwhile, we are renovating our 70's ranch and doing a lot of landscaping, which our renter neighbors certainly aren't doing. You tell me that we are selfish, irresponsible and want to bring property values down? I just want some easy pets that don't track mud inside (dogs), stink up the living room (cats), and give me fresh local, humanely raised eggs!
Annie J. February 22, 2013 at 01:38 PM
Ann, 2 acres is a surprisingly large amount of land, and certainly far more than is required to maintain a small number of hens. I think most aspiring backyard chicken keepers only have 3-5 hens. People keep Great Danes in 800-square-foot apartments downtown; that should be illegal too, according to your logic. Why don't they just buy the land?! I live on just under 1/2 an acre and if you could see my backyard you could see how far away that puts neighbors. And yet under all the proposed code changes and land use permits, I would still not be able to have chickens because 1/2 acre is still insufficient! I agree with you that "boundries" prevent "anarchary" but why did I purchase land if I am denied reasonable rights within those boundaries?
Christopher Gadsden February 22, 2013 at 01:45 PM
Despite the wishes of some to the contrary, our Cobb County Commission is not a Homeowners Association. The Commission oversteps its bounds when they try to dictate what I can do on my property. If you love all those rules and restrictions, hop into a homeowners association-hood and let them restrict you six ways to Sunday. I'll keep my freedoms, you keep your rules. More freedom, less government.
Chicken biscuits are goooood February 22, 2013 at 02:12 PM
Tell you what then...I'll just paint my house bright pink and put a couple cars on blocks in the front yard. My property, right? I should be able to do whatever I want! (Said in my best third-grade voice)
Michael February 22, 2013 at 02:21 PM
Ann, what you fail to realize is that well over 70% of Cobb is zoned in half acre lots. I'm in my home til the day I die. Is it that easy for you to pick up and buy two acres, at hundreds of thousands of dollars per acre? It's not that easy for most if us. We simply want a change, a reasonable one, to the county codes. Like everyone is stating, all other ordinances stay in place. A few chickens are less messy and noisy and less of a nuisance than one dog, or one unreasonably thick headed, unintelligent resident. Like I said before, get a grip. Worry about something else that actually could bring harm to you like governments overstepping their boundaries and taking away your personal liberties!
Hope Yoder February 22, 2013 at 02:30 PM
I am surprised what a hot topic this is. My husbands boss (CEO of a large company) lives in a very nice very large house in a very prestigious neighborhood (not on average) just a regular lot and guess what he has chickens. Now I don't know what he paid for his house but I am sure it is close to a million. This shanty town idea is very silly and well I won't say ignorant but I will say VERY uninformed. I grew up with a pet chicken. They eat insects by the way...they don't attract them. It's too bad people react and respond with no real knowledge. I didn't know chickens had a political affiliation either. And you can paint your house pink in East Cobb, my neighbor has three junked cars in his driveway, there are lots of things I see around East Cobb everyday that I don't care for...but chickens....you would have no idea they were even in my backyard. That's more than I can say for my neighbors three noisy dogs.
Annie J. February 22, 2013 at 02:31 PM
If I were your neighbor I might not like it, but if it is your property and you don't have an HOA or CC&R to worry about, then knock yourself out. Add some plastic flamingos in the yard, too. The difference is that your pink house and cars on blocks would be visible from the street, and a small coop and a backyard garden are most likely not visible and almost certainly not audible or able to be smelled from the street.
Margarita Szechenyi February 22, 2013 at 08:36 PM
Really, Ann? Because Buckhead is such a shanty town suffering from a pandemic of avian flu? Get over your snooty misconceptions and get with the reality that more & more people want to have fresh food that they grow/produce themselves in small, well-managed, even highly stylish ways. Also, since when did private property rights become part of the liberal agenda? You may want to study American history a bit more. By the way, if your neighbors decide your elephant's ear bushes are disturbing their peace, are you going to be ok with the Board of Commissioners and "Development Dept" banning them? Common sense, that's all we're asking for.
Hiller February 28, 2013 at 12:04 AM
I beg your pardon, but how is this subject even close to a "Liberal Agenda"? You obviously know little about animals, chickens in this case. If you are bothered by potential odor or noise, does it not bother you that you cannot sit in your yard or on your porch any time of the day and be subjected to the pervasive odor of single-stroke engines and gas-powered weed-eaters and blowers, not to mention the noise from 7AM to dark? Have you ever visited a garden hen house in a suburban neighborhood, before you vomit your negative commentary on readers? It is obvious, you are ignorant on so many levels.

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