My grandmother seemed to know everyone in Rome, and the folks working always greeted her by name. She had a no nonsense attitude and dedicated herself to education. In a lapse of judgment, I once complained to her about going to school. She pointedly asked me what I would rather do than go to school.
I didn’t have an answer to that. I had never considered what I would do instead of going to school. As I thought about it, I realized how much I enjoyed school. I also realized the endless chores and jobs my grandmother would create for my idle hands.
Too often we say things without really thinking about the consequences. Thank goodness for no nonsense people, who challenge the rest of us to really think. Recently there seems to be a lot of fear and misunderstanding regarding chickens in Rome. Until 2003 you could buy baby chicks and chicken feed on Second Avenue, in the heart of our city, at Rome Seed & Feed.
Here is some common sense that I would like to bring to everyone’s attention regarding keeping chickens in Rome. Prior to 2002 it was legal to keep chickens. It was considered a valid right for a family to be self-sufficient on private property. For some reason the Unified Land Development Code made it illegal for people to start keeping chickens.
If you already had them you were permitted to keep them. But if you moved or your children grew up, bought a house of their own and decided to keep chickens, you might have a problem. I was surprised at how difficult it is to even figure out that keeping chickens might require a special permit. My mother grew up feeding chickens and gathering the eggs for the family. I want my daughter to have the right to enjoy the same experience. It seems criminal to strip away our heritage with unnecessary bureaucracy. It seems even more absurd to expose our government to litigation for infringing on citizens’ rights to life and liberty.
I didn’t even realize it was an issue until this past fall, when one person complained about their neighbor to the government. It seems a slight waste of government resources to be going to this much trouble over an issue that could have been solved by a simple neighborly phone call.
Something like this:
Offended neighbor: “Say there chicken keeping neighbor, sometimes your chickens get in that little rectangle of lawn outside my fence. This is driving me crazy; please keep your chickens off of my property.”
Chicken Keeping neighbor: “I didn’t realize this was a problem. Now that you mention it I will put up my own fence to prevent this from happening again. Terribly sorry for any inconvenience this has caused you in the last four years. Thank you for bringing it to my attention now.”
Five minutes of neighbor-to-neighbor communication could have saved the city a lot of time and energy. As long as I can remember people have had chickens in Rome, and I would suggest that people are going to keep on having chickens in Rome. Chickens are a part of our history and a part of our community. They are extremely useful animals, providing eggs, fertilizer and pest control. I support tax payers’ rights to provide food for their families, in the manner they see fit.
I don’t know why people can’t talk to one another. It seems that the offended neighbor has had no trouble calling other neighbors and getting them fired up about these chickens. Why should the whole city government spin its wheels to satisfy the whims of one neighborhood? Why should we all give up our rights as tax paying citizens to satisfy unreasonable people who can’t talk to their neighbors?
Let’s imagine that this was an argument about a dog. A 40-pound dog produces more waste than 10 chickens per day. Well, in this case the family only has four chickens. That means their pets produce less waste than a 20-pound dog. Imagine a neighbor with a 20-pound dog that barks at 90 decibels all day. That would be annoying, but hardly a matter for the whole city. A rooster crow might reach 90 decibels, but hens only reach 40 decibels. This is the level of two people having a conversation, hardly a noise issue. And there is no factual evidence that keeping small flocks of chickens is linked to disease or impacts property values.
People have had chickens in Rome since the city was founded. Over time various ordinances were put into place regarding keeping chickens in sanitary conditions, but chickens were not outlawed until 2002. It never occurred to me that keeping chickens was against a code because I have always seen chickens as a part of Rome. Like the rivers running through town, the deer that eat my tomatoes, and the raccoons that try to break into my trash cans. I always thought that Rome was a city connected to nature and in balance with the bounty of the land.
Don’t force Romans to live by some imaginary standards of city life, recognize what our city has been and honor our traditions. I imagine that between 2002 and now there are plenty of folks who have unwittingly broken the ULDC code. Why would it ever occur to you that keeping chickens required special fees? Why would you call the city to even ask about keeping chickens when folks all over Rome already have chickens? Here we are in 2013 discussing keeping chickens in Rome, because the code is broken. It seems obvious that the ULDC was in error to even suggest that property owners can’t keep chickens. Why would our city seek to strip away rights that empower people to be a little bit self-sufficient?
We need less regulation, not special permits with special fees and committees and hearings, not special anything. People are busy living their lives and government needs to let people continue to live their lives peacefully. We have existing ordinances that cover this topic, Section 4, clearly advises that citizens must keep sanitary conditions, not break noise ordinances and not let fowl run wild. That seems pretty straight forward and those ordinances seemed to work just fine prior to the adoption of the ULDC in 2002.
I suspect the lack of specifics regarding poultry in the current ULDC was merely an oversight. When I speak to people about the chicken issue most folks reply, “who cares” or “chickens never hurt anybody.” For a lot of Romans, chickens are a non-issue. Chickens, rabbits, cats, and dogs are not uncommon sights in neighborhoods. I do not necessarily love dogs barking all day, nor do I appreciate stepping in dog poop or cleaning it up in my yard. Yet, I recognize my neighbor’s right to have dogs. Part of living in a city is recognizing the rights of others.
As a community we should work together to ensure that our rights are not jeopardized by needless regulation. Let’s have an honest discussion about this issue. Amend the ULDC to allow for chickens by right. At best it was a mistake to suggest otherwise, at worst it was a concession to special interests with deep pockets. Regardless, it is a sneaky way to sap the rights of residents. Let’s stop this erosion of individual freedoms and move on to issues that actually concern the common good.
I urge the Rome City Commission to take the courage to recognize that our community has a strong history of backyard chickens. Government should protect all citizens equally, and not pander to special interests. The folks who support backyard chickens are a dedicated group that will see their rights restored. I also hope that citizens will recognize that all objections to backyard chickens are based in fear, convenience, and lack of education on the realities of chicken stewardship and the history of Rome.
Creating new laws will not give you new neighbors. It is better to work out your differences at the neighbor level.
I can still see the old red brick building in my mind’s eye, and I hardly believe that River City Bank is there now.
I am hard pressed to admit that it has been nearly 10 years since Rome Seed & Feed closed its doors. Conveniently located in the center of town, locals could get what they needed for their homes, gardens, pets, and livestock. The store illustrated the needs of a city still closely tied to the land. I pray that the honest virtues of that old Rome still exist today, and that our citizens can remain connected to the land.
Holly McHaggee operates the Claremont House Bed and Breakfast on East Second Avenue in downtown Rome.