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FARNER: No yolk: Chicken issue has plenty of questions, controversy

Hold on to your hats, the great chicken controversy that has ensnarled at least a few nearby cities has descended on Suwanee.

An issue that is gaining traction by the week is that several Suwanee residents have requested the city allow them to keep chickens in their yards to collect fresh eggs. This is nothing new locally as officials in cities such as Dunwoody, Johns Creek and Roswell have already dealt with the issue.

In Suwanee, the city's planning department thought it was a serious enough issue that it was raised for discussion at April's City Council Workshop. But as it was discussed among the council members, there were far more questions than answers.

Where this enters a sticky territory is how the city council handles the ordinance issue, and perhaps more importantly, how tight it decides to enforce the regulations.

Enforcement, it seems, typically comes only after neighbor's complain.

Those in favor of the issue say chickens -- and roosters -- are better for neighbors than a barking dog. They say if a ban is imposed, it's hypocritical since residents anywhere can have a pack of dogs or a herd of cats. Is it simply an issue of what society will allow? What's more, they could be educational for youngsters.

Critics squawk that if chickens are allowed, where is the line drawn in terms of other livestock and small animals? Pygmy goats -- believe it or not -- have even been mentioned. Other more obvious questions are how to handle waste, disease, noise or predators.

About two years ago, the Dunwoody City Council voted 4-3 against amending its ordinance to allow residents to raise chickens inside city limits. The proposal was for only owners of lots 10,000 to 15,000 square feet in size for six birds. Roosters were prohibited.

The Roswell chicken story has enough drama for a television mini-series. It started when resident Andrew Wordes, later nicknamed "the chicken man," responded to the city's February 2009 citation with help from attorney and former Gov. Roy Barnes, who had the citation thrown out of court in May 2009. But in December of that year, the city introduced a new ordinance that banned roosters and established a limitation on lot size.

About a year later, he pleaded guilty to violating city codes, and was later arrested for violating probation. Last month, Wordes' body was found in the home after an explosion.

In Johns Creek, a woman challenged the city with litigation over a citation of where her coop was located in relation to occupied buildings and neighbors' property lines. She later settled with the city, and gave away the chickens.

If there's one theme among the chicken supporters, it's they're passionate about their cause.

Suwanee officials have already squirmed at the idea of addressing this issue head on, no doubt wanting to avoid similar images -- and headaches -- that have come from these other situations.

My suggestion is to relax enforcement, and revisit if the number of chicken-loving residents grows to a more significant number. At its current level, the poultry posse is simply a vocal few.

Keith Farner covers all things Suwanee for the Daily Post. Email him at keith.farner@gwinnettdailypost.com.