Thanks to some prodding by a couple of local Girl Scouts, some City Council members are ready to reconsider the city’s ban on backyard chickens.
A proposed ordinance legalizing backyard chickens is expected to be debated as soon as next month by the Planning Commission before heading to the council. The proposal brings up a controversial issue that has been brooding for some seven years, since the council in 2010 voted 4-3 not to allow backyard chickens.
Councilmember Lynn Deutsch, who raised the issue of legalizing backyard chickens at the City Council’s recent retreat, said the idea of legalizing backyard chickens was “unnecessarily” controversial in 2010.
“When the issue came up all those years ago, people found out their neighbors had had chickens for years but didn’t know,” said Deutsch, who sat on the Planning Commission at the time. “They weren’t bothering anyone. That was very telling to me.”
Now that many years have gone by and more people have been educated, perhaps now is the time people can flock around the idea.
“And now they’re also legal everywhere around us,” Deutsch added.
Backyard chickens are legal in DeKalb County, Brookhaven and Sandy Springs, but all have ordinances people must follow.
In Brookhaven, for example, the city allows livestock such as chickens, but the zoning code mandates livestock shall only be permitted on a “lot containing two or more acres,” said spokesperson Burke Brennan.
The Brookhaven code also requires all buildings used for animals to be set back at least 200 feet from any property line and all animals be maintained at least 100 feet from any property line, he said.
In Sandy Springs, those with backyard chickens must also follow strict restrictions, including housing them at least 25 feet from a neighbor’s occupied dwelling.
Alli Allen, who lives in Glenn Errol subdivision in Sandy Springs, has four hens who live in a coop made from an old porch swing in her spacious backyard. The chickens wander freely in the backyard and every day she has three or four fresh eggs she eats or gives to friends and neighbors.
“It’s a great way to produce your own healthy food … and a way of being an urban farmer,” Allen said as she fed Clementine, Henrietta, Scout and Buttercup handfuls of mealworms.
“I feel like I’m in the country when I’m really not,” she said. “It’s my slice of heaven.”
Deutsch and Councilmember John Heneghan have been working with two Dunwoody Girl Scouts who want to legalize backyard chickens in their city because the girls like chickens and because they hope to earn their scout Silver Award by trying to change city policy.
“We talked about having chickens and then we found out we couldn’t,” said Lauren Fitzgerald, 13, an eighth-grader at Peachtree Charter Middle School. “I’ve always personally liked chickens and I think this would be a good thing to do and have a lasting effect on the community.”
Lauren and her friend, Chloe Fenster, 13, also an eighth-grader at PCMS, are members of Troop 29423.
Lauren said they reached out to Deutsch last May and then started collecting signatures from people supporting the idea of backyard chickens. She gathered many signatures during Food Truck Thursdays at Brook Run Park.
“I’m trying to raise as much support for chickens as possible,” Lauren said.
A proposed Dunwoody ordinance hasn’t been completely hammered out, but Deutsch said it would ban roosters and would only allow a certain number of chickens per yard.
Andy Schneider, known as the “Chicken Whisperer,” hosts the “Backyard Poultry with the Chicken Whisperer” web radio show. He’s also formerly of Dunwoody and remembers the fight over backyard chickens from years ago.
“If done correctly and responsibly, backyard chickens can be a great thing … it’s always about the responsibility of the property owners,” he said.
Among the top concerns he hears as he travels around the country to cities considering adopting ordinances legalizing chickens are the following: 1) If we allow chickens, what’s next? Cows? 2) Chickens attract rodents. 3) Chickens smell bad.
None of these arguments is based in fact, he said. If a person arguing that backyard chickens will lead to a cow problem is able to point to a city with a cow problem, then Schneider said the argument should be addressed.
Rodents, he said, are attracted to food and water sources, such as cat food bowls left outside or bird feeders and bird baths.
Chickens do not attract rodents, he said.
Chicken waste – not chickens themselves — can smell bad, but if people clean their coops regularly, there will be no smell. Schneider likened this argument to cat or dog poop in a person’s yard – all of it should be cleaned up.
“I’ve had all kinds of curveballs thrown at me. The uphill battle is education,” he said. “People need to take all the facts and science-based data and not these kinds of arguments.
“We’ve come a long way,” he added. “We don’t do chickens like we did in the 1930s, just like cars have been improved since the 1930s.”
Henegan was on the City Council in 2010 and was one of the three who voted in favor of legal backyard chickens.
“I am still pretty much pro-chicken,” he said. “But I will listen to what everyone has to say. … I may be swayed yet.”
He said that while he voted in favor of backyard chickens seven years ago, he made a vow to not be the proponent to bring it back up again.
But he did all the research and due diligence years ago and still feels confident in supporting an ordinance that would legalize backyard chickens for Dunwoody residents.
“I’m looking forward to hearing from the Girl Scouts,” he said.
Deutsch said she believes there is a lot of confusion about what it means to have backyard chickens. Having backyard chickens is “not a small undertaking,” she said, and arguments that chickens are dirty and smelly are not valid when it comes to coops in people’s backyards.
Code enforcement would also ensure backyard chickens do not become a nuisance, she said.
“You can’t have free-range chickens in Dunwoody like you can on a farm,” she said. “It’s a really different scenario.”