2007-03-15 / Front Page

Wilkes chicken houses and property rights occupy Board of Commissioners meeting


Objections to the construction of a chicken house in the Mallorysville area of northern Wilkes County were too late to make a difference to the Wilkes County Board of Commissioners which was powerless to act on the requests of a group of upset citizens. However, the group now has information which might prove helpful in the future.

The primary speaker for the group, Charlie Jones, admitted that he had not been overly concerned when he first learned that chicken houses were going to be introduced into his community. However, when he found out that he would be downwind of the houses, he said he became angry because the quality of his family's life would be threatened by the "far-reaching stench."

"I believe in private property rights," he said, "but the actions of an individual property owner should not affect the lives of hundreds of others." Jones then demanded that the commissioners begin to address "these fundamental issues" and he asked, "At what point does private property become a public nuisance?"

John Carter, who moved to the Mallorysville community from Oglethorpe County several years ago, presented a petition with 104 signatures to the board and explained that its purpose was not to stop all chicken houses but, he said, "a more acceptable location is critical in this situation."

He suggested that improvements on Bunch Road might allow for a more remote location of the chicken houses and he asked that the commission consider that as a possibly remedy.

"The situation in Mallorysville is an example that relates to the larger issue of finding a balance between a citizen's right to make a living from his land and the rights of neighboring property owners and residents to maintain the value of their land and the quality of life they moved here for," Carter said. "We know that poultry houses will be a part of the Wilkes County landscape, but we only have to take a short drive west into Oglethorpe County to witness what may very well be our future," he continued. "We find that scenario unacceptable."

As for the particular chicken houses in question, it was explained that although they are not yet built, a building permit has already been issued to Neal Wilson, owner of the property. He was not in attendance at the meeting.

County Attorney Charles LeGette explained that "it's a tough situation because the present rules are not very stringent. Once someone has a permit, it's very hard to make changes in the rules without the legal risk of a lawsuit." He suggested a meeting between Wilson and the group to work out some kind of solution. "You are his neighbors and I would imagine that he would like to get along with his neighbors," LeGette said.

Commission Chairman Sam Moore explained that Georgia is a "right to farm" state and there's not much that can be done to prohibit "normal agricultural practices." He further explained that while 3-4 years ago the county had no means to oversee land use, it does now have a Comprehensive Land Use Plan. He said that some control might also be exercised through the health code.

"This has always been a farming county and there are a lot of businesses that depend on the farmers that are here," Moore said. "We're lucky to have a lot of the businesses that are here just because of that." The chairman reported that Oglethorpe County currently has about 400 chicken houses, Madison County has 500, and Habersham County has over 1,000. As of the last count, around 2004, he said there were 47 chicken houses in Wilkes County.

Commissioner Donna Hardy told the group that the best and proper way to pursue the issue and prevent future problems is for the group to take its concerns to the Planning Commission where specific recommendations could then be made to the Board of Commissioners.

Carter offered a set of suggestions that had already been prepared by the group as follows:

.. A temporary moratorium on issuing building permits for the construction of poultry houses until the issue can be studied by the community.

.. A half-mile setback from a church.

.. An increase of the current setback from a dwelling to a quarter of a mile.

.. A limit on the number of chicken houses in the county.

.. A requirement for public notification 30 days prior to issuance of a building permit.

.. A requirement for a permitting process as is in effect in Elbert County.

.. Balanced and effective zoning as in Lincoln County.

.. The hiring of a qualified parttime Wilkes County poultry inspector to help deal with any local regulation and health issues.

Moore echoed Hardy's suggestion and the group agreed to take its requests to the Planning Commission. Hardy agreed to meet with Carter and Wilson. No other action on the matter was taken.

Copies of a University of Georgia paper entitled "Guide to Preparing Zoning Ordinances Relative to the Poultry Industry in Georgia" had been prepared and were made available to those in attendance.

All of the commissioner were present at the regular March meeting of the board including, Divenski Lee, John Howard, Jerry Stover, Hardy, and Moore. Also attending were County Administrator David Tyler, EMS Director Blake Thompson, Chief Deputy Mike Sisson, LeGette, and a large number of visitors including the group from Mallorysville.

In other business:

.. The board reappointed Bill Steed to the Board of Tax Assessors.

.. A tax relief request from Mary McPherson was denied because the application was filed more than three years after the tax bill in question. McPherson claimed she was given false information about filing requirements. Moore offered his personal assistance if she has problems in the future.

.. Tyler reported that Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax received for the month of December was $104,203.90. Local Option Sales Tax received for the same month was $67,669.97.

.. Thompson reported that he had six counties and four flight services ready as backup for his operations at the GNCC race at Aonia Pass scheduled for the coming weekend. He also reported that his department new truck was set to be delivered on March 9.

.. Cindy Bounds alerted the board to the status and possible repercussions of Senate Bill 173 currently before the Georgia General Assembly. A letter to the editor on page 4 of this newspaper outlines the issue.

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