“This isn’t just about agriculture; … it’s an educational tool,” Chris Lewis told members of the Rome-Floyd County Planning Commission.
Lewis and his wife, Erin Lewis, are Berry College graduates who decided to stay in Rome. They homeschool their young daughters at their Fair Oaks subdivision residence, and their eggs, vegetable garden and fruit trees are part of the family’s sustainable, healthy lifestyle, he said.
But the five hens they’ve raised in the backyard of their house at 115 Hycliff Road for the past three years also have been used to teach their eldest, 7-year-old Caroline, about science, math, literature, writing and art.
“We’ve found them to be even more educational than we expected,” Erin Lewis said during a PowerPoint presentation of some of Caroline’s journals, graphs and drawings. “We want our other children to have the same opportunity.”
The Lewises brought six neighbors and a stack of emails in support of their request for a special-use permit to continue keeping the chickens. But eight people came with opponent Regina Bishop, whose mother lodged the complaint that forced the issue.
Bishop said her mother initially didn’t mind the chickens in the adjacent yard, but they became more of a nuisance as her mother’s health started failing.
She cited the potential danger of histoplasmosis, a disease caused by an airborne fungus that can live in bird and bat droppings. She also said the chickens dig holes that could be a liability for contractors and her mother, who uses a walker or a cane.
Neighbor Lloyd Hopper also mentioned sanitation issues, and questioned the precedent it would set for farm animals in a residential area.
“What about goats and hogs? They can be studied, and they can be food,” Hopper said. “Where does it stop? Are we going to be one big barnyard?”
Urban poultry-keeping is a growing national trend, but the Rome City Commission has twice rejected an ordinance that would have allowed some chickens in residential areas — most recently in February.
Based on that history, the planning commission voted 5-3 against the Lewises’ application, although member Terry Jones noted there are strong feelings on both sides.
“To me, this is a no-win situation,” he said.
Jones, Elaina Beeman, Frank Brown, Ronnie Kilgo and Joel Holcombe were against the permit. Logan Boss, planning commission chairman, and members Charles Jackson and Christian Terry were in favor.
“To me it’s not a yes or no. It’s a how,” Boss said. “And sooner or later we’re going to have to address that.”
The City Commission will decide the case following a 6:30 p.m. public hearing on Oct. 22.