Commission Will Pluck Chicken House Rules From Ordinance After Squawks From Public at Hearing

January 31, 2020

David Young, a member of the committee that hashed out Dade's landmark land-use ordinance, addresses the county commission on their last-minutes changes to it.


A public hearing on Dade's landmark heavy industry ordinance--the rural county's first stab at instituting land use or zoning rules--turned out to be a one-sided, one-issue debate. Almost all the citizens who got up to speak registered staunch opposition to the chicken house setbacks the commission had tacked on at the last minute, characterizing them as an attack on agriculture. The commission made no defense of the setbacks but agreed to take them out before the ordinance goes to a vote, possibly next week.


It seemed an unqualified happy ending to Dade's big chicken question, except for those who enjoy a good fight, those who need conflicts to write about in their independent newspapers, or possibly those who feel oppressed by chicken house odors. But if there were any of the anti-chicken faction in the room, they offered no, ahem, whiff of resistance to the general consensus.       


Notable among the speakers were members of the ad hoc committee that had met for months to hash out a heavy-industry ordinance the county could live with, only to see the county commission tack on chicken house rules at the last minute. Member Allen Townsend pointed out members had been unanimous about the ordinance as it stood when they finished it. "Nobody expressed any dismay," he said.


Townsend, a resident of Wildwood, whose residents first agitated for a protective ordinance when a large scale poultry processing plant loomed, urged the commission to pass the ordinance as is and worry about amending it later. "It's something that's very much needed," he said. 


Another member, David Young, said he was for the ordinance but against the chicken house setbacks. "We talked about it [chicken house regulation] for a second but we didn't think it was germane to the ordinance," he said.  


But it was member Jeremy Dyer who made the most forceful case for agriculture and against the chicken house rules. "We need to make sure that in a place like Dade we defend agriculture," he said. "If you can't have a chicken house in little old Dade County, Georgia, there's not too many places in the world you can have one."


Dyer spoke of the plight of farmers as attitudes became progressively more urbanized even as the population that needs to eat grows and grows. "We're going to need a 70 percent increase in the next 30 years to keep up," he said. "That's going to be hard to do when at every corner ag is fighting this fight."


Dyer said committee members thought they had come up with a satisfactory ordinance that would please everybody but had thought it proper to exempt agriculture from the ordinance's purview entirely. Of chicken house setbacks specifically, he said: "That's another discussion that's better left to another time." 


County Executive Chairman interrupted at this point to ask Dyer to clarify: Was he suggesting there should be two ordinances, one for heavy industry, and another concerning issues such as chicken houses? Dyer answered: "If you do that, you're going to have to get over not using the word 'zoning.'"


And that does seem to be in the stars. Another member of the audience stood up to ask about junkyards. Rumley said Georgia has rules prohibiting junkyards but Dade's existing ones are grandfathered in. The speaker explained that the one she was talking about had suffered a fire recently and: "They moved the junkyard across the street, so now there's junk on both sides." Rumley ventured and the county attorney ascertained that, as written, this ordinance doesn't address junkyards at all. There was also an audience question about facilities that produce wind or solar energyto sell to the power companies. Are they covered?

Again, though, Thursday night's proceedings were largely about getting the chicken houses out of the heavy ordinance ordinance. "We are mixing apples and oranges," said speaker Tom Black. He brought up more questions about the ordinance as proposed than would fit into his allotted five minutes, Rumley cut him off, and another audience member volunteered to give Black his own five minutes.


Nina Graham also stood up for chicken growers. Without chicken houses, she wouldn't have the $4000 to pay in county property taxes, she told Rumley.  Anyway, chicken farmers are already heavily regulated, said Ms. Graham: "We have to keep our farms immaculate or we're cut off." As for odors: "It's not going to kill you to live beside a chicken house," she told the county boss.


It was District 3 Commissioner who first suggested simply taking the chicken house setbacks out of the ordinance, and District 1's Lamar Lowery and District 4's Allan  Bradford quickly joined the chorus. As for District 2's Phillip Hartline, he was the commissioner who originally took issue with the setback addition. "You can take it out whenever you want to," he said, pronouncing himself fine with the ordinance otherwise.


"Does anybody know where that came from?" asked a man in the audience of the setback clause,


South Dade, said Rumley, who lives there, but otherwise claimed no authorship, nor attributed any elsewhere.


The heavy industry ordinance is on the agenda for next Thursday's regular February meeting of the Dade County Commission. That's at 6 p.m. on Feb. 6 in the Dade Administrative Building.


But before we close, Commissioner Rumley paused to honor the zoning committee members who worked so hard on the land use ordinance, and The Planet must also name them here: Allen Townsend, Jeremy Dyer, Bill Graham, Dr. Billy Pullen, Tom Tamburello and David Young.

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