A case in point is Athens-Clarke County, where it's an open secret that a number of intown residents are keeping backyard chickens, even in the absence of an ordinance clearly allowing the practice. County commissioners have danced around the issue for a couple of years, although Commissioner Kelly Girtz has indicated he'll bring an ordinance forward for consideration sometime this year.
At least a couple of Georgia towns, however, have opted firmly against adoption of backyard poultry ordinances. In nearby Winder, city officials backed away from plans to enact a backyard chicken ordinance after wondering how the city would enforce compliance with the law. Currently, the city allows chickens only on tracts of at least five acres that are zoned for agricultural purposes.
On the other side of the state, in Northwest Georgia's Floyd County, the Rome-Floyd County Planning Commission last week rejected a proposed ordinance that would have allowed keeping as many as four chickens on tracts in residentially zoned areas, as long as they were kept in a coop or some other enclosure. Among the reasons for the commission's rejection of the ordinance were concerns expressed by residents about chickens getting out of their enclosures and becoming traffic hazards, and worries about the potential for unpleasant odors.
Certainly, any community taking a serious look at a backyard chicken ordinance should consider the potential downside of enacting an ordinance.
There is, however, considerable evidence - both empirical and anecdotal - to suggest common concerns about allowing chickens in residential areas are at least somewhat overblown.
A little over a year ago, a "green urban policy" class at DePaul University conducted a survey of more than 20 municipalities - from Portland, Ore., to Gulfport, Fla. - that had enacted poultry ordinances between 2005 and 2009.
According to the survey, 17 of the cities reported no problems with chickens getting loose. Ten cities reported finding no violations of their chicken ordinances, while five more reported four or fewer violations. Just one city reported a significant number of violations, telling the survey team it had issued 20 citations.
Results were similar regarding a question on the number of citizen complaints about backyard chickens. Thirteen communities reported two or fewer complaints, two indicated receiving between five and 10 complaints. The highest number of complaints reported by a single city was 115.
Anecdotally, a news story in a November edition of the Longmont (Colo.) Ledger indicated that the city's code enforcement and animal control personnel reported no problems with a backyard chicken ordinance that had been in place since February 2009.
There are, of course, any number of ways to craft a backyard chicken ordinance to address community concerns. The setting of minimum lot sizes, specific numbers of chickens allowed, and rules regarding how chickens are to be kept on their owners' property are just some of the ways of dealing with the more problematic issues.
And, there's always the option of putting an ordinance in place for a specified period of time, with the local government reserving the right to modify or rescind the ordinance if it produces any unintended consequences.
The point here is that there are ways for communities to accommodate those residents interested in raising chickens while respecting the rights of surrounding property owners. It will be interesting to see how Athens-Clarke County, and the other area communities where some residents are almost certain to work for adoption of backyard chicken ordinances, choose to address the issue.