County approves changes to application process for new chicken houses, how nuisance issues handled

The Gordon County Board of Commissioners at their most recent meeting on Tuesday, June 11 voted 4-1 in favor of the Amendment to the Unified Land Development Code for Dry Litter Poultry Operations, changing the application process for the building of mega chicken houses in Gordon County and how nuisance issues with the houses are handled.

“In explaining this proposal, the principal difference between it and our existing law is the ordinance now requires a conditional use permit under the same process you would have for a rezoning,” said Gordon County Attorney Jim Ledbetter.

The amendment to the ordinance involves a stricter application requirement for DLPOs, including requirements for development and design plan, nutrient/waste management plan, water supply and usage plan, land owner notice requirements for adjacent property owners; buffer zone; setbacks and other various requirements including stricter odor control, impact of the character of surrounding neighborhoods and traffic nuisances.

The Commissioners have worked for months on the changes to the amendment after receiving complaints from residential land owners concerning noise, odors and dust from nearby chicken houses in various areas of Gordon County. An outbreak of bird flu has also been a concern since poultry in Tennessee and Alabama tested positive for the bird flu earlier this year.

The changes will now require that those wishing to build mega chicken houses, those that house 125,000 broilers or 82,000 hens/pullets, to apply for a permit application and follow an approval process, much like rezoning requests are handled.

“If somebody wants to build a chicken house that has more than 125,000 broilers or more than 82,000 laying hens or pullets, then their process will be to get their plans together, take them down to the building inspector’s office, pay $300 for a permit application and then they would begin the process where our various departments and environmental health would make a review,” said Ledbetter. “Adjoining neighbors and the public would be notified by standard mailing that you would have in a rezoning, there would be a posting on the property and a general advertisement in the newspaper. It then would go to the Planning Commission for a hearing and the public would be able to speak. The matter would then come to the Board of Commissioners with the recommendation for approval or denial from this Board.”

Ledbetter stressed to the Commissioners that this amendment does not affect current chicken operations. “There are some things this doesn’t do; one thing is it doesn’t affect existing chicken operations,” said Ledbetter. “The one exception is the existing chicken operations would be subject to the complaint process outlined in (the amendment). If we get a complaint and (Code Compliance Officer) Jim Bradford feels it is worthy of action or thinks there’s a problem, he can try to work the problem out with the grower or cite them if it’s a major issue. The grower is going to have to contact their integrator and report the problem. That will apply to all chicken operations.”

The basic structure of the amendment to the ordinance was inspired by Greene County, Georgia, and affects the unincorporated parts of Gordon County. The purpose, set out in the ordinance change, is to regulate land uses within the county, protecting water resources that are used by residents for drinking water, agricultural production, recreation and aesthetic enjoyment.

The Commissioners listened to comments both for the ordinance change and against the ordinance change last month during a public hearing. Many local farmers felt the amendment made the process too cumbersome and was anti-agriculture; local homeowners complained of smells, waste issues and decrease in home values due to the inundation of chicken houses throughout Gordon County over the last several years.

In other Commission news, Ledbetter also gave the Administrator’s Report during the meeting, including:

-Local Option Sales Tax and Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax collections were up slightly in June over the same period last year. LOST was up 3.54 percent, or $16,467; SPLOST was up 3.53 percent, or $23,732.

-Assessment notices were mailed for property taxes on June 21. The final date to appeal to Gordon County is Aug. 7.

-Detailed cost estimating is underway to determine the estimated cost for the Gordon County Courthouse renovation.

-The county is on track to receive detailed plans and specifications in August with bids out in October for construction of the new Animal Shelter.

At the meeting, the Commissioners also considered the following new business:

Approved the reappointment to the Board of Assessors for Frank Sullivan for a six-year term ending June 30, 2023.

Approved a Memorandum of Understanding between Gordon County Board of Health and Gordon County Emergency Management for storage of an emergency preparedness trailer.

Approved a resolution authorizing signature on an intergovernmental agreement with the municipalities (Calhoun, Fairmount, Plainville and Resaca) for the use and distribution of proceeds from the 2018 Special Purpose Local Sales Tax for capital outlay projects.

Approved an agreement for the Public Defender’s Office for indigent defense services.

Approved a Malt Beverage, Wine, Liquor License Consumption on the premises application for Crazy Acres Bar & Grill.

The next meeting of the Gordon County Board of Commissioners will be held at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017 at the Gordon County Administration Building located at 201 North Wall Street in Calhoun.