By: Laura-Jane Hatcher (WRGA News)
The topic of Backyard hens has finally come to a close, leaving many wondering if this entire issue was about more than just keeping chickens inside the city limits.
Tempers were flaring at the Rome City Commission’s Monday night meeting after a 5-4 vote resulted in strict regulations for potential urban chicken keepers. Among these, is a stipulation that to keep a hen on a city lot, a property must be at least 30,000 square feet---a number which excludes some 70% of city property owners from ever seeking a permit to keep chickens.
As if this wasn’t a big enough blow to the urban poultry movement, the commission then shut down the Lewis family’s special use permit to keep their pet hens. In their 5-4 decision, commissioners cited their newly created footage rule as answer, as the Lewis family’s property is only 15,000 square feet.
Chris and Erin Lewis, who filed for the permit in August to legally keep their pet chickens, believe their hens have dug up some deeper issues.
“It calls a great deal of things into question---whether it’s reasonable for a neighbor to be bothered by the existence of something that doesn’t hurt them,” Chris Lewis says. “The guidelines that the city has adopted create a special privilege for a small percentage of the people who own residential lots in this town. It essentially discriminates against somewhere on the order of 70% of land owners.”
“As citizens of Rome, we need to think really hard about whether it’s wise to have commissioners that would discriminate against 70% of us," he says.
To these allegations, stiff regulation proponent Commissioner Bill Irmscher says poor people, who are likely to fall beneath the 30,000 square footage requirement, could not afford the expenses of chicken keeping.
The three citizens who testified for urban chickens at the public hearing called the matter a ‘property rights' issue and accused the city commission of “micromanaging” residents. Lewis himself claimed the regulations were made to simulate the appearance of a compromise, but essentially made hen keeping in the city virtually impossible.