City closes door on house-kept chickens

Gary B. Gray • Jun 6, 2012 at 9:40 PM

It appears the prolonged attempt to find a way to legally allow chickens within the Johnson City limits in residential areas is — off the table.

“This new ordinance has been slammed through,” said Emily Katt, Chickens On Our Property co-founder.

The City Commission will consider an ordinance tonight that would amend sections of the zoning code to permit farm animals, including chickens, only in agriculturally zoned areas of the city.

The move is surprising, considering commissioners, city staff and chicken owners have wrestled with the issue for more than a year and seemed to be moving toward the center of an agreeable point.

The ordinance says the code is being changed “in response to the City Commission’s request”.

“My question is: what request?” Katt asked Wednesday. “There was a motion at the April 5 meeting that directed city staff to eliminate conflicts by changing the zoning ordinance to mirror the city code to accomplish enforcement of current poultry and farm animal regulations, with the stipulation of appointing a designated health officer,”

The May 17 meeting resulted in a deferral of the subject, sending city staff back to the drawing board.

“So what request was made for the exact opposite of the April 5 directive, that city code to be changed to match zoning code? And who voted for it?” she asked.

City Manager Pete Peterson confirmed the new ordinance does restrict chicken keeping to agriculturally zoned areas.

“The ordinance puts the city code is sync with the zoning ordinance,” he said.

Since the 17th, commissioners requested Peterson to make the change, he said.

Katt said this proposed ordinance would increase the city’s enforcement burden by mandating criminalization of city hens, and would cut responsible citizens’ rights which “have been respectfully petitioned for by hundreds and hundreds of city residents and taxpayers.”

“Three to two — chickens win,” remarked Mayor Jeff Banyas after the April 5 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.

Meanwhile, John Smith, Solid Waste Service director, will publicly announce his retirement tonight.

“Thirty-four years, nine months, two days,” Smith said late Wednesday. “June 8 will be my last day. It’s the only full-time job I had after graduating from ETSU with a BA in industrial technology. I just turned 57. I’ve been working since I was 15. I really don’t know what I plan to do yet. I’m going to take a few months off, but I do want to go back to work — maybe part-time. I think I’m good for another seven or eight years.”

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