Perhaps it will be a case of third time being the charm, but at its Oct. 22 meeting the commissioners will again cluck at one another about whether or not to allow some chickens inside the city limits in residential areas.
The commissioners have already twice rejected an ordinance to allow a limited number of chickens for family egg supply purposes (and without crowing roosters). Now it gets to deal with a twist — a special-use zoning permit to permit a family that homeschools to use its “flock” of four hens for educational purposes, a reason that has already been rejected by the Planning Commission on a 5-3 vote.
Frankly, all this is bewildering for a number of reasons.
First of all, most of Rome is not particularly urban and this family, which also uses a vegetable garden and fruit trees to educate its children about the world outside supermarkets, is not living in an apartment building. That might be a different matter although there is no ordinance saying a Roman can’t own a pet alligator in such a setting.
Come to think of it, didn’t the city itself once keep and tend to the kissing cousins of chickens, called ducks, at the old Duck Pond? Aren’t other egg laying, good to eat chicken relatives known as geese practically overrunning the waterside park areas of Garden Lakes?
Second, urban agriculture has become a big deal and not just because of the “green” movement. It is also about fighting the high price of food intertwined with trying to become organic.
WHILE IN ROME, a city where deer on the hoof stroll along with the occasional bear, the quest for a fresh, naturally derived egg supply draws protests in another U.S. city — 100 times larger — a nephew raises chickens and bees in the “downtown area” on a residential lot about the size of postage stamp compared to the ones around here. That city allows such things, as do a growing number of metropolis size.
Indeed, there are big urban centers of the sort that Rome would love to grow to become that allow goats — for milk and cheese more than meat … not to mention weed control. And that have “magnet high schools” that specialize in “urban agriculture” to a greater degree than some in South Georgia feature Future Farmers of America.
Nor are our own memories as short as those of some commissioners who about five years ago overwhelmingly approved raising chickens in Rome for a commercial purpose. Remember Molecular Genetics Resources, which came to the Business Expansion Center on Callahan Street for the purpose of producing an enzyme known as reverse transcriptase used in genetic research and medical diagnostics? It comes from the avian myeloblastosis virus, known to affect only a very limited variety of chicken species, for which male White Leghorns (roosters) were brought to Rome, infected, allowed to get sick for week and then slaughtered to harvest the enzyme in a high-tech lab. The carcasses were disposed of elsewhere but the blood and guts discarded into the city sewer system.
Despite a protest larger and louder than that now being brought by some neighbors regarding chicken usage for home schooling (or eggs) the commissioners had no problem giving the presence of sick roosters in Rome … a special-use permit.
AS FOR the danger cited by some current opponents from histoplasmosis, a disease caused by an airborne fungus that can exist in bird and bat droppings, does that mean the city will soon disallow the heavily frequented wild bird feeders in my backyard?
Also, while not having any personal intention to raise hens since feral cats, raccoons, possums and hawks abounding nearby would make quick work of them in my city abode, it was sad to learn that pending Rome action might deny me a wonderful Christmas. Certainly somebody was planning on giving me one of super gifts in the annual Nieman-Marcus holiday catalog: A hen house built in imitation of the Versailles Palace in France and costing a mere $100,000 (delivery not included). It’s a rather small henhouse, too — might have four-poster nests for maybe a dozen chickens.
Perhaps Rome should just stick with what is in the City Code: “No person or firm or corporation shall be allowed to keep in front of their stores, on the sidewalk in said city, any chicken coop or coops.”
Oh, wait … that is Rome’s 1910 code and apparently chicken coops anywhere else were perfectly OK.
Maybe that’s why the city in that era was really hard on dogs, those famous chasers of chickens that wander around. Unlike today when Rome does not require licenses for dogs it did at that time with a cost of $1 for each male — about $25 in 2012 money — and $5 for every female (about $125). Those had to be renewed every year, like a car license tag.
BEING CAUGHT with a dog not properly licensed meant a fine of up to $2,500 in today’s money. And, should a female dog in heat escape the house or fence the code specified the owner could be fined $2,500 and/or sentenced to 30 days in jail. Not only that but Rome police officers were ordered to shot such animals on sight.
Now then, back to banning chickens in very limited flocks in the modern day whether for educational or breakfast omelet purposes: Really? Cats and dogs run free and unlicensed in homes, yards and neighborhoods. Residents walk their canines with no pooper-scooper required for either sidewalk or neighbor’s lawn.
Some city folks keep/raise snakes or spiders as pets, or ferrets and skunks, or piranhas for that matter. No problem, no special-use permit required, no notification of neighbors about what can be found next door necessary.
Those conditions exist locally and are unregulated. The city is asked — with rules regarding number, no roosters, fenced yards or whatever — that families be permitted to have a handful of hens and the feathers start flying?
Why did the chicken cross the road? To get away from the bureaucrats.