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Zoning: Commission approves poultry for residential districts

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County planning director Boyd Johnson says an amendment to the zoning ordinance allowing chickens in some residential neighborhoods will make life easier for his staff.

Tom Stickler, president of the Hagley Estates Property Owners Association, says it opens a can of worms.

Members of the Georgetown County Planning Commission agreed with Johnson last week and recommended a change in the zoning ordinance to allow three hens per 10,000 square feet and a total of 16 on a residential lot where there are no neighborhood or deed restrictions. Roosters are not allowed because their crowing disturbs neighbors.

“We spend a lot of time dealing with complaints about chickens,” Johnson said. “It’s difficult to enforce.” Chickens are presently allowed in only three zoning classifications: “forest and agriculture,” “village commercial” and as a conditional use on residential lots of 2 acres or more. There are no limits on the number of birds.

Once the chicken law is enacted, Stickler said, there will be more calls for enforcement and more cases in court. Though Hagley has deed restrictions against poultry, residents have had a laissez-faire attitude about them unless they become a nuisance. That was the case presented to the commission last month. Hagley residents Sandy Shelley and Sharon Roberts complained about 16 chickens belonging to Shannon Davis.

The Hagley Estates POA is voluntary and has no means of enforcing deed restrictions against chickens, Stickler said. Complaints to the county get zoning enforcement involved and take the Hagley chicken cases to court. Neighborhoods with mandatory POA membership can fine members for violations of deed restrictions.

Johnson said the county would be better served to have clear rules regarding chickens. He said 93 of the 100 largest cities in America, including Greenville and Columbia, allow chickens as a conditional use. He recommended two chickens per 10,000 square feet and a maximum of 12 on a parcel. There can be no enclosures within 100 feet of a neighboring dwelling and no free range chickens. Slaughtering of birds must take place out of public view.

Commission member Lee Shoulette asked Johnson if including residential lots of 10,000 square feet would be setting the staff up for more enforcement.

Stickler said any change in the code will mean more enforcement. “You will have many more in the future once people read in the newspaper it’s OK to have chickens,” he said. “The next thing you know neighbors are complaining. We will have a lot more controversy going forward if this is adopted.”

Attorney Jason Bohn spoke on behalf of Hagley residents who favor chickens and invited commission members to the Davis house to see how urban chickens are kept. “When the county enforces the ordinance, people like Davis get criminally charged,” he said. “Criminal prosecution is a waste of county resources.”

Davis defended her chickens, even their high-nitrogen manure, claiming dogs were a bigger pollution problem. Flo Phillips said she raises chickens in a coop as pets. “We don’t limit dogs and cats,” she said. “Don’t limit chickens.” Amber Bradshaw said she raises chickens to teach her children about the source of food and a sustainable lifestyle.

Johnson asked members of the commission to proceed with the ordinance for what county attorney Wesley Bryant called “hobby chickens” and amend it if it’s not working. Commission member Freddie Hill moved to increase the number of birds to three for every 10,000 square feet of lot area, with a maximum of 16 on a parcel.

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