FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Residents in certain areas of the county will now be permitted to house chickens their backyard.

The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners approved an ordinance April 15 that permits residents to keep chickens provided they meet certain requirements and it is permissible under their HOA covenant, if applicable.

The ordinance has been under the county’s microscope since late last year, with commissioners, county staff and other interested parties finalizing the regulation last week. Some of the delay in approving the ordinance was to ensure it did not inadvertently conflict with ordinances related to housing chickens on agricultural properties.

Under the code, up to eight chickens can be kept at any one home under certain zoning designations where the property is at least one-half acre.

Roosters or crowing poultry cannot be kept under the ordinance. All chickens must be genus gallus gallus domesticus and raised as a pet or as a non-commercial source of eggs and/or meat.

A chicken coop must also be constructed that is farther than 20 feet from the rear or side property lines and at least 50 feet from the homes of other properties. If the zoning of the property requires more stringent buffers, those codes would apply. A building permit to construct a coop will not be required.

Certain requirements for the square-footage provided for each chicken in the coop are also included in the ordinance. When people are present in their backyard, chickens must be kept in an enclosure, such as a “chicken tractor.”

Slaughtering chickens on site is prohibited.

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Amy Bartholomew, a local veterinarian who assisted the county in drafting its ordinance, strongly supported the county permitting backyard chickens. She has advocated for keeping chickens as family pets and told those with concerns backyard chickens are quiet and do not produce any more waste than a small dog.

She repeatedly said that many in the county are already keeping chickens in their backyard, and chickens have a significant impact on the state’s agricultural output. Allowing backyard chickens could also help keep residents interested in agricultural jobs, Bartholomew said.

No one spoke against the ordinance at the April 15 meeting.

Commissioners approved a bevy of changes to the original proposal that have stemmed from several meetings of various boards and interested parties but did choose to leave out a suggestion made by the Planning Commission.

That language would have prohibited backyard chickens on any property under an HOA covenant unless that covenant was not applicable or it specifically allowed keeping poultry on residential properties.

County Attorney Ken Jarrard expressed some “heartburn” over the language. He called it “well-intended,” but said it would present the county with a complex legal and technical issue by requiring the county delve into each property’s covenant. He added that some of that legal work could require the county to hire additional legal representatives,

Commissioners Laura Semanson and Todd Levent each expressed that covenants are a private matter. Semanson said the county choosing to include the covenant language could lead to a slippery slope in the county being charged with enforcing HOA matters.

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