MARIETTA — Chicken owners no longer have to worry about running afoul of Cobb County.
Advocates’ decade-long crusade for backyard chickens was vindicated Tuesday when the Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to remove the requirement that would-be chicken owners get a costly permit.
Until now, homeowners whose properties are smaller than 2 acres, or about 87,000 square feet, had to request a temporary land-use permit and notify their immediate neighbors in writing if they wanted any chickens. Such permits cost $75 and lasted, at most, two years. Renewing them cost $50.
Homeowners will now be able to get chickens so long as they submit a form detailing their plans to the county zoning office, have no more than one chicken per 5,000 square feet, and keep the coop at least 25 feet from their property line.
“It’s a great victory for those of us that want chickens. I think it’s a fair compromise, with, I guess, those that don’t want chickens,” said Joseph Pond, founder of the Backyard Chickens Alliance of Cobb County. “There’s people out there that for whatever reason are anti-chicken. I’ve encountered that quite a bit over the past 9 years.”
The votes against the measure came from Chairman Mike Boyce and north Cobb Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, against whom Pond ran in 2014 on a pro-chicken platform.
In 2011, Pond’s neighbor, retired Dickerson Middle School principal Carole Kell, complained to Birrell about the dozen hens he kept on his half-acre. At the time, to have any chickens on fewer than two acres was a violation of county code and there was no avenue to special permission. Pond was cited with a code violation and forced to get rid of his chickens.
He founded the Backyard Chickens Alliance of Cobb County, which successfully pushed to create an avenue for residents with fewer than 2 acres to have chickens by applying for a variance through the Board of Zoning Appeals.
He faced a lot of pushback along the way.
“I’ve been told I was trying to wipe out Cobb County by introducing avian flu,” he said. One woman said at a board meeting that chicken hawks follow chickens to Cobb County and “haul off small children and pets,” he recalled.
Birrell’s opposition to chickens has softened only slightly in the years since; she has said she is not opposed to the idea of owning chickens, but to the fact that someone could put them in his or her backyard without neighbors’ buy-in.
“That’s the concern I have: It gives anybody and everybody kind of a blanket permission to have chickens without any discussion or notice even to their surrounding neighbors,” she said in January. “We have approved chickens on less than 2 acres in the past, and I think it has to be done on a case-by-case basis. We just approved a goat and a sheep in my district last year in under 2 acres.
“It just — I think that your neighbors have a say, they have property rights too,” she continued.
Boyce explained his opposition to the amendment by saying it would “change the nature of our residential areas.”
Lauren Serafin was among those celebrating the board’s vote on the Backyard Chickens Alliance Facebook page after the board’s vote.
A recent addition to the group, she and her significant other recently purchased a home in unincorporated Smyrna. She hopes to have chickens in their backyard by year’s end.
Serafin said her desire to own chickens is twofold: she has long wanted to live on a “mini-homestead,” having grown up around farm animals, and she also wants to source her eggs more humanely.
“I learned a lot about mass production farming, and I just really believe that I could give a better life to a couple of chickens that could provide for me and my family than (through) the mass production that’s going on,” she said.
According to county spokesman Ross Cavitt, no more than five people applied for a land use permit for backyard chickens in the past three years.
In 2017, five people applied and four were approved. In 2018, three people applied. In 2019, two applied. All of their applications were approved.
Mark and Stephanie Stefancik live on Sandy Plains Road, near Mountain View Elementary School. The couple has had chickens for the past couple years.
Stephanie Stefancik said their four chickens will lay as many as 16 eggs per week in the summer, when they are most productive. They let the chickens roam in their backyard and have a coop with an automatic door that closes after nightfall. The chickens always make it back in time.
“They’re very punctual,” Mark Stefancik said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
As for Pond, he doesn’t have any chickens.
“I was one of the first to sign up for the permitting process and I was denied immediately,” he said.
He plans on getting chickens now that the ordinance has changed — assuming he can.
“Actually, I gotta measure that yard ‘cause of that whole 25 feet thing,” he said.