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Updated: 11:07 a.m. Friday, July 22, 2011 | Posted: 11:01 a.m. Friday, July 22, 2011

Cobb man launches campaign for backyard chickens


Cobb man launches campaign for backyard chickens photo
Cobb County allows backyard chickens on lots that are two acres or more. Joseph Pond's lot is less than half an acre and he wants the county to change its rules.
Cobb man launches campaign for backyard chickens photo
Brant Sanderlin, bsanderlin@ajc.com
Madeline Pond, 10, holds one of her favorite chickens, Buffy.

By Jeffry Scott

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Joseph Pond didn’t plan to pick a fight with Cobb County when he bought a few baby chicks last April, built a coop in the backyard of his east Cobb home and expanded the flock to 13 birds.

But then code enforcement showed up one afternoon and left a note telling Pond he was violating county zoning and the birds had to go.

Instead of shutting down the cage and caving to the ordinances in a community used to high-end subdivisions and upscale shops, rather than hardscrabble chicken coops, Pond has joined the backyard bird liberation movement and launched a website (www.backyardchix.org) with a growing following.

“It’s only been up a week and I’ve had 200 hits so far,” Pond said this week as he showed a reporter around his backyard in a modest subdivision off Shallowford Road. “I’m fighting for all the chickens, not just mine.”

Al Wiggins, manager of Cobb County code enforcement, confirmed that Pond had been served a citation but declined to comment on the case.

Pond’s flock is only the latest to fly in the face local ordinances banning livestock and agriculture from city yards across the nation. The backyard chicken movement is as fashionable as going green.

In the metro area, Decatur, Atlanta, Smyrna, Roswell and Alpharetta allow backyard birds, which people generally maintain for the fresh eggs, not the meat.

Other cities such as Dunwoody have banned the birds. Even though the Georgia Legislature passed the 2009 Georgia Landowner Protection Act -- which backyard chicken advocates say gives them the right to raise chickens -- the fight to win local approval is still jurisdiction by jurisdiction, said Alex Olvido, a member of the Atlanta Backyard Poultry Meetup Group.

“A lot of our members think raising chickens where they live is illegal, but they raise them anyway,” Olvido said. “But when they decide to fight they always win.”

Olvido cites the case of Roswell resident Andrew Wordes, who in 2009 took that city to court over its anti-chicken ordinance and -- with the help of a former governor, attorney Roy Barnes -- convinced a judge to throw the ordinance out.

In another celebrated case three weeks ago on the coast of Georgia the Chatham County Commission voted to change its chicken-banning ordinance after celebrity chef Paula Deen was cited for yard birds and raised a squawk.

Pond said it’s not illegal in Cobb to raise chickens in your backyard if your lot is two acres or more. His is less than half an acre. He wants the county to change the zoning ordinance to allow him and others to have chickens on smaller lots, and he thinks that’s what state law requires.

The hens are quiet and the pen can’t be seen from the street, he said. His backyard is enveloped by a tall wood fence.

“What is there to complain about?” he said. “We look at them as quiet pets who serve breakfast."

District 3 Commissioner Jo Ann Birrell said she’s worked with Pond to try to resolve his case, but the chicken coop is a violation of county code passed in 2007. About his only recourse, she said, is to go to court or appeal with the zoning board, which he is doing.

“It’s a violation and I support the law as it’s written,” Birrell said. “It’s there for a reason.”

On the hill behind Pond’s house, with a deck that gazes into his backyard, neighbor Carole Kell can see the birds and the cage and she doesn’t believe they belong there.

But she said she didn’t complain to the county. Word just got around.

“I don’t want to get involved in this,” Kell said. “I will probably just invest in some Leyland cypress and plant them so I cannot see into his yard.”

Pond said he’ll take his case up with the zoning board in September. He will attend county commission meetings in the meantime, but don't expect him to stand up and hold forth on chickens.

“If I go to the board now," he said, "I look like a one-man nut."

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