By Joel Hall
The Jonesboro City Council voted Friday to put in place a 60-day moratorium on enforcement of the city's livestock ordinance, as city lawyers work to rewrite it to be more accommodating to residents who keep chickens on their property.
Discussion of the ordinance arose after a handful of local residents were cited recently for chicken ownership under the current ordinance, in particular, Willis Swint, owner of Swint's Feed and Garden Supply and a long-time resident of Jonesboro.
On Sept. 10, Jonesboro code enforcement officials told Swint, 80, that he had 15 days to remove 20 chickens kept in a hen house on his property on North McDonough Road.
The current ordinance states that "no livestock or fowl, including chickens and geese, shall be kept in residential areas unless the tract of land exceeds 5 acres in size." According to Swint, his property is 4.29 acres.
On Friday, Jonesboro Mayor Luther Maddox asked that the ordinance be revised to be more accommodating.
"I would hope that the council might consider maybe amending the livestock ordinance to allow a certain number of chickens," Maddox said. "We can't allow chicken houses with several thousand chickens on a lot. We can set a number that the council thinks they can deal with, and include the fact that, once there is a report that the chickens are a nuisance, that we can't have a nuisance."
Maddox asked the city's attorney, Steve Fincher, to "clean it [the ordinance] up to where we can allow 20 chickens in a suitable enclosure as long as it is not a nuisance."
City Councilman Roger Grider said other cities in the metro Atlanta area have passed laws allowing limited chicken ownership. He said he would agree to changes in the ordinance, as long as the new laws apply to all residents equally.
"I know that the city of Roswell, just doing some checking, approved up to 25 chickens with a suitable structure," Grider said. "Very few people in the city have four acres [of property], so if we do this, we have to do something that covers everybody, and not one or two individuals."
Councilman Clarence Mann asked that a grandfather clause be placed in the new livestock ordinance to prevent future residents from bringing in chickens.
"We need to fix it so that we can let everybody that [has] chickens now be able to keep them, but try to prevent it from reoccurring," Mann said. "It might get out of hand."
Councilman Billy Powell said that new Jonesboro residents should be able to own chickens, within reason.
"I don't agree with the grandfather [clause] issue," Powell said. "If you have someone new in town who wants to raise his own eggs and chickens, he ought to be able to, if it is suitable and not a nuisance."
Councilman Bobby Wiggins expressed concern that the council is selectively altering its ordinances.
"If you change this, when I bring my pet pig home, are you going to change it for that?" Wiggins asked. "That's what I'm worried we are going to have. I have no objection to changing the ordinance, as long as it deals with all of the citizens and not a select few."
Swint said his family has raised chickens in Jonesboro since the 1930s, and that he is just happy the moratorium on enforcement of the livestock ordinance gives his chickens more time to lay eggs.
"I think they [City Council members] ended up doing the right thing," Swint said. "I think anybody ought to have [chickens], as long as they aren't a nuisance. I'm going to tell those girls [the hens] to get busy because they have a 60-day reprieve."