Andy Wordes and his 14 chickens weren’t bothering anybody. He got along OK with his neighbors – they liked the eggs, too.
That was before a Roswell code enforcement officer notified Wordes that his chickens would have to go. According to the officer’s – and later the city’s – interpretation of Roswell law, chickens are considered livestock and are therefore not pets.
Now it is a chicken-fried cause célèbre that caught the attention not only of the local press and TV news, but the Associated Press and CNN. Wordes was quickly dubbed the “Chicken Man,” and he quickly got lots of support.
If you doubt there are a lot of chicken lovers in the Atlanta area, nearly 50 attendees at Roswell Municipal Court March 19 all wearing yellow in support of Wordes could tell you differently.
The case was quickly bound over until May after Wordes’ attorney, former Gov. Roy Barnes, filed for a dismissal of the case on the grounds the ordinance is unclear whether chickens are included or excluded from the definition of “livestock,” which are forbidden to be kept on property of less than 2 acres. Wordes lives on 1 acre.
The Roswell solicitor asked for time to study Barnes’ demurral, and Judge Maurice Hilliard stayed a decision until May.
“This is really a tempest in a teapot,” said Barnes outside the courtroom. “Where is the common sense in all of this? There is no public nuisance, none of his neighbors have complained. Indeed, some of them are here in support of Mr. Wordes.”
Barnes said the ordinance under which Wordes was cited clearly states poultry and swine are exempted from the statute that states no livestock will be kept on residential premises of less than 2 acres. If the city intends the ordinance to mean something otherwise, Barnes said his client still prevails because Georgia law says if an ordinance is not clear then it will be construed in the property owner’s favor.
Barnes noted the city of Atlanta permits folks to keep up to 75 chickens, adding it was hard to find anywhere that banned chickens, except apparently Roswell.
“Perhaps the City Council can come to its senses,” Barnes said.
Wordes said the whole matter was “ridiculous” and that it should have never come to a trial.
“Clearly all of those Roswell code enforcement officers don’t have enough to do,” said Wordes. “And Roswell doesn’t have enough issues to worry about.”
Neighbor Clint Crowe said the chickens were not a nuisance at all. Personally, he said he found chickens “delicious.”
Asked if he thought the city was picking on him, Wordes said a “disgruntled ex-employee” turned him in.
Roswell Director of Community Affairs Julie Brechtbill pointed out that code enforcement officers only respond to complaints.
“We don’t have officers driving around looking for violations. They only respond to a complaint someone has made,” Brechtbill. “A complaint was made, and the ordinance states no livestock. The City Council has the option of discussing it or letting it go through the process.”
Mayor Jere Wood said he would suggest to council that it “look at more reasonable regulations for birds of all kinds.” That would include geese, ducks, chickens, turkeys and parrots.
“We shouldn’t be in people’s backyards. I think the City Council will see the wisdom of that,” Wood said. “We should only regulate those things that infringe on the public.”
Code enforcement should have some over arching logic to it, he said. For instance, trees on lots of 1 acre or less do not come under the tree preservation ordinance and thus may be cut down. However, there is an extreme pruning ordinance for those trees.
“Does it make sense to have a law that says you can cut a tree down but you can’t prune it? What is extreme pruning, anyway? I don’t know,” Wood said.