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City residents will be allowed to keep chickens after details get hammered out

Gary B. Gray • Apr 6, 2012 at 10:59 PM

In the end, it looks like it will take a little “beak-tweaking,” a bit of grooming and probing, to be specific, and not a formal ordinance, for Johnson City to arrive at a compromise that soon will allow chickens within its municipal boundaries.

“Three to two — chickens win,” remarked Mayor Jeff Banyas after a vote to go forward with the necessary changes to allow the birds to be kept at homes.

Banyas and Vice Mayor Phil Carriger voted against the move; Commissioners Ralph Van Brocklin, Clayton Stout and Jane Myron voted to go forward.

Banyas said his concern all along has been the effect chickens may have on neighbors.

“I’m really not convinced,” he said. “I don’t think people will move to the city and reasonably expect there to be farm animals.”

Angie Carrier, Johnson City’s Development Services Department director, presented commissioners Thursday with a short overview of existing regulations, including a range of allowances and possible compromises.

The city code regarding the keeping of animals was written in 1998, and it does not require permitting, does not allow roosters, incorporates a 1,000-foot setback and general cleanliness requirements in A-1, or agriculturally zoned districts.

A compromise has been reached, however, and residentially zoned areas will be allowed to keep a certain amount of chickens.

Most of the existing code is on target, but the zoning ordinance, which was compiled before 1998, will need to be amended to fit with city code. The City Commission agreed that the matter will need to go through the Johnson City Regional Planning Commission so its members can adjust the zoning ordinance to allow chickens in residential areas.

“Basically, we’re going to mirror our zoning ordinance with city code,” Carrier said. “We also need to designate a current employee as the person who will be responsible for monitoring chickens. We have not finalized whether there will be a required permit to keep chickens. And the maximum number of chickens that can be kept is now six. That, too will be reviewed in more detail.”

Many future “on-the-spot” calls regarding distances between a residence and a business or industry, safety concerns and other nuances of chicken-keeping will be determined by the employee appointed to handle those duties.

“Is our animal control able to handle chickens?” Carriger asked.

City Manager Pete Peterson said it (Washington County/Johnson City Animal Control) was not. He also strongly advised against the city issuing permits to keep chickens.

“That will end up causing extra costs for us and end up being very expensive,” he said.

On Thursday, Emily Katt, Chickens On Our Property co-founder, strongly suggested the city hire a trained health official to oversee all things chicken.

Carriger questioned whether people would be responsible. He also reminded Katt of a city survey that showed most people objected to the idea of allowing chickens in residential areas.

“That was a very unscientific survey,” she said.

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