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Land use: Planners count chickens, but wait to hatch decision

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

How many chickens are too many in a residential neighborhood?

Members of the Georgetown County Planning Commission delayed making a decision on a limit last week after neighbors in Hagley Estates brought their chicken fight to the old courthouse in Georgetown.

County planning director Boyd Johnson said raising chickens has become a trendy thing to do in urban areas, and 93 of the 100 largest cities in the country allow poultry. With no rules on the books, cases in Georgetown County residential zones have become enforcement problems, Johnson said. “We see this becoming a bigger issue,” he said. “A lot of people want to do this, and we’d like it to develop in a manner that doesn’t infringe on their neighbors. The bottom line is we don’t have any definitions in our ordinance.”

Chickens are allowed on land zoned “Forest and Agriculture,” “Rural Village Commercial” and on “R-1” lots of 2 acres or more. Johnson proposed an ordinance that would allow two hens — roosters are too noisy — on 10,000 square feet of land but didn’t offer an opinion about a cap on the total number allowed on larger lots. Greenville and Columbia allow as many as four chickens on larger lots in their ordinances, he said.

Johnson said most property owners associations don’t allow chickens and can enforce the provision through fines. Membership in Hagley’s POA is voluntary, and the organization has to use the zoning laws in cases that run afoul of its deed restrictions. That, Johnson said, can be arduous for neighbors. A case in Hagley has been in the courts since March.

Tom Stickler, president of the Hagley POA, said if people were keeping chickens responsibly there would never be a reason to complain. He urged the commission to make no changes to the zoning ordinance. “Who is going to make sure they only have four chickens?” he asked. “This is going to require a lot more activity on the part of code enforcement.”

Commission members learned what a thorny issue neighborhood chickens can be when they heard what amounted to testimony in the Hagley court case on Lake Trail last week.

“Look at my back yard,” said Hagley resident Sandy Shelley. “My yard is destroyed. My garden of 17 years, destroyed. I’ve got a flooded back yard with chicken manure floating in it. This is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever gone through.”

Shelley and neighbor Sharon Roberts said the chickens are attracting the interest of coyotes, and they fear being attacked. “One or two chickens are somewhat cuddly,” Roberts said, but there is a “chicken farm” across the road. Shelley said she contacted the state Department of Natural Resources about the coyotes and was advised to use fire crackers to scare them away. “I tried that,” she said, “and the police came to my house, and charges were filed against me.” Dan Roberts said he worried about chicken manure seeping into the nearby wetlands, running into the Waccamaw River and Winyah Bay and killing fish.

Shannon Davis said she got a dozen chicks for her son one Christmas and added four lavender Ameraucanas to produce blue eggs in April. “That’s 16 chickens,” she said. “We don’t have a chicken farm.”

She said she didn’t know about the Hagley deed restrictions against poultry and thought the chickens were fine. Her son is a special needs child with a brain injury who loves the chickens and eats the eggs for breakfast.

“If you want to have chickens,” said Bill Rivera of Hagley, “buy a farm.”

Planning commission chairwoman Elizabeth Krauss said she wanted to recommend acceptable guidelines for chickens but didn’t feel comfortable setting a limit without more study. The commission members agreed, tabling the issue until next month.

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