Backyard chicken bill survives opposition, clears Metro Council

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 12:10am

Yellow-clad backyard chicken supporters rejoiced after their victory in the Metro Council Tuesday night. Hugs went all around. Some were teary-eyed.

“For a lot of us, this is probably the highlight of all the hard work we’ve put in,” said Mary Pat Boatfield, a member of a group that calls itself Urban Chicken Advocates of Nashville.

Boatfield was among dozens of backyard hen advocates who watched, then celebrated, after the council voted 21-15 to approve on final reading a bill that legalizes the housing of up to six hens in urban residences. The new law requires various sanitation and henhouse-setback guidelines be met. Roosters are forbidden.

A similar bill died in the council only two and half years ago. Backyard chicken advocates –– those who value the nurturing of hens at home for self-sufficient egg production –– had looked forward to avenging that loss ever since.

“This is the right thing to do,” said Councilwoman Karen Bennett, lead sponsor of the ordinance, which includes a sunset provision that requires the council revisit the backyard chicken law in two years.

“It’s a very thoughtful thing for Nashville to take responsibility for the food that they bring to their table,” she said.

But Tuesday’s win overcame a serious challenge. The bill failed to receive recommendations from two council committees. Most troubling to its fate, eight council members were successful in opting out their individual districts through the approval of a last-minute amendment, which cleared by an 18-17 vote.

Council districts exempt from the backyard chicken law are: 12, 20, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32 and 33. Six of the shielded districts are in southeastern Davidson County; one is in Donelson; and the other is in West Nashville.

“I am representing my district, and they dramatically said they did not want this bill passed,” said Councilman Robert Duvall, who led the opt-out amendment.

Opponents came armed with familiar lines of attack Tuesday.

Some said the covenants of certain Nashville homeowners’ associations wouldn’t allow hens. Others said hens would cause disruptions with neighboring dogs and rodents. Noise and odor were cited. The perceived unsightliness of chicken coops also entered into Tuesday’s discussion.

“If you look at this coop, I’ve seen third-world shanties look better,” said At-large Councilman Charlie Tygard, holding up a photo of a henhouse he claimed would be permitted.

Formerly under Metro’s code, chickens were not permitted in any homes within the Urban Services District — which consists of the oldest parts of Nashville, largely the urban core — or within the suburban General Services District in lots smaller than five acres. The new law authorizes the keeping of chickens in both districts, but on a limited basis, with six hens the limit in parcels greater than 10,237 square feet.

In effect, the council’s action provides parameters and legalizes an act –– the housing of chickens –– that many admit they do already.

Now, to house domesticated hens, Davidson County residents will have to apply for an annual $25 permit with the Metro Health Department.

Under the new law, hens must be kept in “predator-proof” covered henhouses requiring building permits. Henhouses must be at least 10 feet from property lines and 25 from other houses. There can be “no perceptible” odor from the hens. Feed must be stored in containers with metal lids. The law prohibits the training of chickens for amusement, sport or financial gain.

And there’s also the two-year sunset provision.

“If everything that [opponents] predict does happen, and this becomes an absolutely horrible bill, then in two years it will go away, and we can start again,” said At-large Councilwoman Megan Barry.

The following is the vote breakdown on Bennett’s backyard chicken bill:

Aye votes (21): Barry, Steine, Maynard, Matthews, Harrison, Hunt, Banks, Scott Davis, Westerholm, Anthony Davis, Bennett, Pridemore, Pardue, Stites, Allen, Gilmore, Langster, Evans, Holleman, McGuire, Todd

No votes (15): Tygard, Jernigan, Glover, Stanley, Tenpenny, Baker, Weiner, Harmon, Blalock, Dominy, Johnson, Potts, Dowell, Duvall, Mitchell

Council members Fabian Beden and Sandra Moore abstained. Council members Tim Garrett and Phil Claiborne were absent.

 • In other items, the Metro Council voted 31-5 to give final approval for a 15-year property tax abatement to LifePoint Hospitals Inc., in exchange for the health care company’s planned headquarters move from Williamson County to Davidson County.

The hospital chain will relocate from three separate buildings in Williamson’s Maryland Farms to a largely undeveloped office park on Old Hickory Boulevard called Seven Springs.

LifePoint officials expect the new 203,000-square-foot, seven-story Nashville headquarters to open in late 2013.

22 Comments on this post:

By: dustywood on 1/17/12 at 11:50

I had Easter chickens several years ago. They never lived long enough to lay eggs, as predators got to them. The ducks did fine, did not lose a single one over that same time. I expect the sunset provision will prevail.

By: TNBear on 1/18/12 at 12:01

Now that's the way to uphold the law. Just change the laws to appease lawbreakers and destroy our CITY in the process.

By: bfra on 1/18/12 at 12:33

For every councilperson that voted yea for this inane law, I hope they get a chicken hut on every side, just 25ft. from their property line. That way they can enjoy the rank smell, every time they go outside. They really think people are going to follow the regulations, they don't now, so why should they start!

By: Trumpet on 1/18/12 at 4:57

Joe/The Collection:
My next-door-neighbor saw this bill coming down-the-pike. He ram-rodded a chicken house onto his property 8-9 months ago. Built a fence, and put everything in his yard inside the fence, but that funky chicken-coop and his chickens. Yes, the chickens like my yard better than they do their own, but he did send me a dozen eggs for my trouble. I watched him execute one of his chickens, one day, after he had to come into my yard to chase it home. Yes, Walter, you know my neighbor. He's the same one who built his fence on my property and you refused to get involved. Good News Walter---I'm saving those eggs for you. When I want eggs for breakfast, I go to the Sands! Not next-door. And one other thought! Block-voting=Black-voting! Chicken-S_ _t!!! Cheaper-by-the-dozen. They do'in something 4 the 'PO.


By: dargent7 on 1/18/12 at 5:15

This is a riot.
Now, we've got enough time on our hands to build coops, grain silos, vet bills, and city ordinance oversite?
You like chickens? Buy stock in Tyson Farms.
Eggs are so cheap at any store, the cost of producing your own is a losing proposition.
My neighbor's dog doesn't like my two cats. My cats, do not like my neighbor's dog.
It's a fair fight.
Add in chickens...who knows what will happen to the neighborhood.
To be sure, the City Council and lawmakers haven't got a clue.

By: Loner on 1/18/12 at 6:27

Utterly ridiculous.

By: dargent7 on 1/18/12 at 7:21

You mean, "Udderly" we'll have cows and milking them in our front yards.

By: gid on 1/18/12 at 7:22

Very glad to see this has passed. Finally the Govt is getting out of peoples lives, just a little bit. Folks, 6 hens do not create a smell, or mess, or noise

By: Just Sayin on 1/18/12 at 7:23

Just Sayin, Where can I buy Fresh Eggs, from my neighbor of course.

By: bfra on 1/18/12 at 8:28

Authorities should have been at the council meetings writing citations for all of those bragging about the chickens they already have. Breaking the any law, is still breaking the law!

By: WickedTribe on 1/18/12 at 8:53

I guess Nashville wants to keep reinforcing the dumb redneck Country-lovin' hick reputation, with chickens in (previously) urban areas.

By: Left-of-Local on 1/18/12 at 9:02

I am loathe to agree with Duvall on anything, but the propensity for my area (south Nashville) to abuse this an sneak plenty of cock fights in, etc, is too great. Once a district has responsible residents in it for the right reasons that these others seem to hold dear, then I can see making adjustments. For now, leave the tiny livestock collections to those who will handle it right, in civilized settings.

That said, I also think this has the risk of fostering plenty of crazy cat-lady issues, but with chickens. I've known personally at least one person whose interest was less in food supply and more in having pets and feeding her neuroses rather than her family...

By: PKVol on 1/18/12 at 11:25

Why did the ones who amended the bill to opt their district out turn around and vote against the bill? Doesn't make much sense to vote against a bill that will not affect your district.

By: ottolad on 1/18/12 at 1:39

I don't see how the existing Municipal Code could be read as a ban on chickens in the first place. It reads:
8.12.020 - Keeping of chickens.
No person shall keep chickens within the metropolitan government area in such a manner that a nuisance is created.

By: oldbailey on 1/18/12 at 3:40

This is a major issue? I mean really? Does anyone on the city council realize how this issue plays to those who think Tennesseans are hillbillies? to businesses contemplating relocations (and jobs) for Nashville residents?

By: bfra on 1/18/12 at 4:50

oldbailey - Evidently the ones on the council that voted for this inane issue, evidently don't have enough "common sense" to care.

By: libertygirl on 1/19/12 at 12:30

Of course Bo voted against it! My neighborhoods "covenants" wouldn't allow chickens anyway but at least chickens have a purpose. All the cats and dogs around here do is make noise and crap all over everyone else's yard. I wish their was a way to get rid of them legally!

By: NilsOrion on 1/19/12 at 6:22

How yummy! Chickens have become cool again!

By: frodo on 1/19/12 at 8:15

I'm for chickens...on my plate, in my tacos, in the fridge and on the barbie.AND I am for chickens in the yard. Libertygi has it right about dogs and cats being just as big an issue. Read through many of the anti-chicken posts here and replace "dog" for "chicken." It all applies. Anyone for banning dogs? Didn't think so. Everyone thinks their "things" smell better. Dogs are a huge nuisance. But, tell you what. I'm an open-minded freedom lover, so I'll let you keep em.

By: T-BONE on 1/20/12 at 7:40

"BREAKING NEWS"...Prominent Nashvillian proposes new tax! "I say tax them chickens by the egg, and send the money to yours truly"..... TEXAS BUD ADAMS.. (The "BIRD" FLIPPING owner of the Nashville Titans).

By: bfra on 1/20/12 at 4:09

Talking with people from out of town & state, they thought this was a joke when they heard about it. That supposedly sound minded people should make up the council and they were actually wasting time on "Chickens in the City". Schools, roads, crime, codes not doing their job & so many other things that should be getting attention, and they were actually weighing in on whether chickens belong in the city. Must say it is quite comical and really back woodsey!

By: ladyday1 on 1/26/12 at 12:22

District 24, Jason Holleman, Councilman
It won't take 2 years for district 24 to become a dump for chickens, pigs or any other foul smelling thing!! We already have it. Leave it up to Jason Holleman to see us lose a Historic Church and replace it with a pornography shop within one year. A pornography shop with a sign next to Interstate 40 so large you can't help but see that you are now in West Nashville.
He stood by his friends and turned Historic Richland Park into a PARKING LOT for cars, pickup trucks and commerical vehicles every Saturday for seven months. These same people park on the tree roots of some of the oldest trees in Nashville. What's the value of an old tree anyway? Not only has Jason Holleman helped them but the Mayor,Parks director,Parks Board and the whole council!!!! No one wants to take a stand.
How many of the Council Members who voted for the "Chicken Bill" will not show every one how important it is to raise your own chickens for eggs or food?
Make it our mission to check with codes.
Our ENVIRONMENT is ours to save or destroy.