Poultry enthusiasts and property rights advocates thought things would be different with the election of Commission Chairman Mike Boyce, but it seems they thought wrong.
Cobb County Commissioners voted Tuesday evening to reject a zoning variance which would have allowed a family to keep three chickens on their family property in a Cobb subdivision.
Natallia Vilchenko presented her case by way of PowerPoint Tuesday night due to a language barrier (see the complete powerpoint here), but she told Commissioners that her family, for a number of reasons, was not able to have other animals in the house, and instead decided to have chickens as pets. They purchased three chicks, considered to be domesticated birds, and named them Ryaba, Grey, and Polka Dots.
The birds went unnoticed on the Vilchenko property – outside of adjoining neighors – until Vilchenko applied for a zoning variance with the county and a sign was put in the yard. That’s when a few neighborhood residents became vocal opponents.
Like all of the others before them, the anti-chicken crowd cited money and fear in their plea for a variance denial. Those against backyard chickens said hens have a negative impact on real estate values and attract coyotes, raccoons, and deer, but adjacent neighbors were on the side of the family. Vilchenko presented more than a dozen letters of support, many complimenting her family’s care and cleanliness of the chickens, while others residents said publicly that coyotes, raccoons, and even a bear had been in the neighborhood long before chickens ever were. Vilchenko also provided statements from a mortgage lender, an area broker, and the VP of the Georgia Association of Realtors, all of whom stated that hens have no effect on property values.
According to the photos in the PowerPoint, the Vilchenko home sits far off the street, on a hill, and the backyard is shielded by mature landscaping. The property has fencing and meets all other HOA and code regulations. But that isn’t enough for the crowd crying fowl.
“The fact of the matter is you can’t do whatever you want with your property,” Lance Ruhl, who does not live next to the Vilchenko family, said before the Commissioners. “I have no interest in living next to a problem. Controls maintain a nice quality of life for all residents and protect our property values.” Ruhl also claimed the Vilchenko family knew “the rules” before purchasing the home.
Camissa Thornton, another opponent, reportedly told Commissioners that she “chose to purchase [her] home in Highland Pointe because of a strong HOA.” Her biggest complaint was the noise.
Neither opponent made mention of the noise originating from cats, dogs, children, or even pot bellied pigs, which are allowed in the subdivision.
Vilchenko denied claims that the chickens were used for farm purposes, saying they do not use them for meat or eggs. The chickens are merely pets, which is how the dispute ended up before the Commissioners and not just the HOA. How do you define a “pet”?
Despite presenting upwards of 25 letters of support from other neighborhood residents, the Commissioners voted 3-2 to deny the variance request.
Commissioners Bob Ott and Lisa Cupid voted to allow the chickens to stay, but Boyce, Birrell, and Weatherford voted for the hens to be removed and the family must get rid of them within 45 days. Ott and Cupid have long been advocates for property rights and backyard chickens in these disputes while Weatherford and Birrell have been consistent NO votes. Newly-elected Boyce could have been the weight that tipped the scales. But alas…
My favorite quote from the evening from the RiverEdges article:
After the vote, Bob Windham, a neighbor of Vilchenko’s who came to support her variance, said, “She’s from Belarus. What they call the last dictatorship in Europe.” He said her treatment by the HOA and the Cobb BOC was similar. “We have all these Republicans. What’s their main criteria? Government staying out of people’s business … Ronald Reagan would be rolling over in his grave, hearing that this county board determined that [Velchenko could not keep the chickens.]”
You can read more of the details over on RiverEdges.com.