published Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

City Council balks on ordinance allowing chickens in Chattanooga

City Councilman Chris Anderson makes his case for an urban chicken ordinance which failed on a 6-3 vote by the Chattanooga City Council on Tuesday. Councilwoman Carol Berz, back, was against the ordinance.
City Councilman Chris Anderson makes his case for an urban chicken ordinance which failed on a 6-3 vote by the Chattanooga City Council on Tuesday. Councilwoman Carol Berz, back, was against the ordinance.
Photo by Tim Barber.
HOW THEY VOTED

Chris Anderson - yes

Carol Berz - no

Moses Freeman - yes

Russell Gilbert - no

Larry Grohn - no

Chip Henderson - yes

Jerry Mitchell - no

Ken Smith - no

Yusuf Hakeem - no

It wasn't just about the chickens. So much more was at stake as friends and foes of urban fowl filled the City Council chamber on Tuesday, when an ordinance that would have allowed chickens within the city limits failed with a 6-3 vote.

On one side, residents argued they ought to have domain of their property. With chickens and their eggs they can control at least one small part of their food supply. Live off the land. See their food from infancy to the dinner table. Liberate themselves, at least a little, from the mass-produced bounty of corporate farms.

And who is the government to say that dogs, cats and parrots are OK, but chickens aren't?

"We seem to be in favor of losing our liberty instead of gaining it," said Councilman Chip Henderson. "Every time we pass a law or an ordinance, somebody loses a little bit of their rights."

But opponents made a play at liberty, too.

Those against backyard chicken coops said the City Council was putting their property rights on the line. Livestock next door could tank their home values. And living in town, they have a right not to be subjected to the sights, sounds and smells of farm animals like chickens.

Because many think chickens don't belong anywhere near a residential neighborhood.

"It's unfair to put a chicken in a coop when they're used to running around," said Eastdale resident Marina Robards. "I don't think that's good and healthy for anyone."

But Chattanooga chickens aren't entirely outlawed under current rules. Current city laws allow chickens on pieces of property at least two acres in size, said Councilman Larry Grohn. So he said there's no need for a change.

"It's totally unnecessary in my opinion," Grohn said.

But supporters of urban chickens noted that homeowners are already raising chickens in neighborhoods across Chattanooga.

Lana Sutton, who launched the group Chicken Legal, said she attended Tuesday's council meeting on behalf of some 400 Chattanooga chicken owners. They didn't attend out of fear of being busted, she said, because chickens are not currently allowed.

"They're part of the chicken underground," she said.

And now that the council has turned down the proposed ordinance, it will lose out on any of the revenue from permit fees it might have seen under the plan.

"It's ridiculous because people are going to have them anyway," said Hixson resident Jami Brown. "They're already here."

Brown said the council's action sent a message that is contrary to the way Chattanooga bills itself as a city focused on green, sustainable eating and living.

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"They talk about all our farmer's markets and local foods," Brown said. "But when it comes down to it, they don't want you to be sustainable."

Some council members might have been swayed by the removal of an amendment that would have required chicken owners to first get permission from their neighbors. City Attorney Phil Noblett said that provision could raise constitutional issues because it switched governing power away from the city and put it into the hands of neighbors, which could violate the Constitution's mandates of due process and equal protection of the law.

The council discussed an alternative amendment that would have required notification of neighbors through letters or signs, but council members went ahead and voted on a no-strings-attached ordinance.

Councilwoman Carol Berz said that some kind of neighbor notification or approval would protect chicken owners and their neighbors.

"I hate for us to toss that out," Berz said. "I think there's a way for people to have chickens and to have them in this city without it being an all-or-nothing proposal."

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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