Ordinances for backyard chickens, trees and soil were among topics discussed by the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners at the meeting on Thursday, Dec. 3. None of the ordinances were approved, but unanimous action was taken to bring the issues back to upcoming work sessions.
Backyard chickens make a reappearance
Backyard chickens were a topic of conversation on Thursday. After speaking with Dr. Amy Bartholomew, a veterinarian with over 20 years of experience in the field, the BOC was presented with an amended ordinance presentation regarding owning backyard chickens, primarily focusing on the location of coops.
As presented to the commissioners, some amendments to the ordinance said an applicable lot had to have a minimum of a half-acre of land, that only eight chickens were allowed per plot of land, that roosters and other crowing breeds were prohibited and that the slaughtering of hens on site was also strictly prohibited.
Commissioners heard from many residents in favor of having backyard chickens in Forsyth County, including Bartholomew herself.
“[Chickens] really do make great pets,” Bartholomew said. “And they’re a great learning tool … to stay connected to where our food comes from and agricultural production.”
Other residents agreed, one family saying how great their chickens have been to raise and have as a source of eggs for their children.
“[Chickens] make a fantastic pet for children that have allergies to cats and dogs and other animals that have dander,” Bartholomew said. “And it would be awful nice to give those children another alternative pet to teach them that same sense of responsibility and pride.”
Commissioners didn’t argue that backyard chickens made excellent pets, but had reservations about the setbacks proposed in the ordinance.
As presented to the board, chicken coops had to be located at least 15 feet from a rear property line, 20 feet from a side property line and 50 feet from residential structures on all sides.
Commissioners said they want to include agricultural (A1) district to the proposed zonings for backyard chickens, but were concerned about the setbacks regarding different zoning categories.
As presented to the board, agricultural (A1) district properties would be required to place chicken coops 100 feet from property lines. Commissioners expressed concerns about the setbacks changing based on which properties the plot of land with chickens abutted.
County Attorney Ken Jarrard proposed to include language that zoning performance standards should control the setbacks, but they shouldn’t be less than the standards set by the board.
Jarrard also proposed that the BOC should implement its specified setback changes into the ordinance before it is adopted, and to possibly bring it back to the upcoming work session.
The motion to bring the ordinance to the Dec. 8 work session was approved in a unanimous vote by the board.
No final decision for tree and soil ordinance
Proposed tree and soil ordinances which have been previously discussed in meetings were also aired.
The issue revolved around the word ‘hardship’ and what constituted as such for developers, as the word carries a lot of subjective meaning behind it.
Many residents expressed concerns with this specific word, including Forsyth County resident Julie Allen.
“It’s incumbent upon Forsyth County to represent future generations in this decision [about ordinances for trees and soil], not just who’s going to make the money on their home sale and penalizing developers,” Allen said.
Allen also read many online posts from Forsyth County residents, all expressing frustration and concern about developers claiming hardship and mass grading of land.
Ethan Underwood spoke for developers against this claim, stating that “a tree is a tree.”
“The [developers] are going to make the deal work,” Underwood said. “Who really gets hurt is the landowner who is selling to the developers. So, if you drive up costs, you’re knocking off what they’re going to make on their property. And two, you’re hitting the homeowners who’re buying it because it’s going to be wrapped up in their price.”
Regarding the preservation of trees, Underwood expressed his idea to the BOC that instead of choosing which specific trees the commissioners wanted to keep, to count them and include a baseline for how many trees they would want.
“If a tree is a tree and a car is a car, then I’ll be happy to trade you a ’73 Pinto for a 2020 Porsche,” said Chairwoman Laura Semanson.
Commissioners did agree that they wanted more representation from the commercial standpoint before making a final decision, as well as more representation from the residential side.
“This is a very important deal and I would like to have more of commercial developers’ input and … I would like to have some more input from the community,” District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper said.
Semanson agreed with the public and said that ‘hardship’ was a point of pain for her as well, and she proposed that future decisions regarding hardship should go through the district commissioners.
“Most of the time when we see ‘hardship,’ it’s because somebody bought something with a cliff on it or a lot of water on it, and [developers] are expecting us to fix their investment for them,” Semanson said. “Whether the stated reason is topography or the stated reason is something else, it still comes down to money, and it still comes down to yield and what [developers] are or aren’t able to get out of their property.”
District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills disagreed with that statement. She expressed that there should be categories of land that people should be able to apply for that included those things, such as cliffs and too much water as Semanson had proposed.
Semanson said that she believed the categorization of land had nothing to do with the discussion of ‘hardship.’
The board discussed a possibility in eliminating the word ‘hardship’ altogether from the ordinances and having a variance, or going back to the original language of the ordinance. District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent said he felt comfortable striking the word and including a variance.
“It’s cleaner and more specific per case,” Cooper said.
Commissioners voted unanimously to bring the ordinances regarding trees and soil back organically at a later date to a work session.