Urban farm or neighborhood nuisance? Decatur to decide (Updated)

What would you do if you lived in a dense urban neighborhood that is zoned R-60 (a single-family residential district) and your neighbor had nearly 30 chickens, two ducks, an adult turkey, three pygmy goats, two dogs, two cats, a turtle, and some fish?

If you are one Decatur resident, you’d file a complaint with the city. Tanya Floyd is an environmental attorney who lives behind Realtor Stacy Reno. After finding evidence of rats that she had not seen previously, Floyd complained to Decatur officials that Reno’s animals were creating a nuisance.

The complaint touched off a feud between the two neighbors that has spilled out from their yards and onto the Internet. Reno has tweeted about the disagreement and she has written about it on her blog, The Crazy Chicken Lady.

One of AOL’s hyperlocal news sites began covering the flap after Decatur officials originally told Reno to get rid of her goats. The city soon rescinded the violation it issued because a 2000 municipal ruling defines goats as “companion animals,” not livestock. I began covering the matter for the Decatur-Avondale Estates Patch last week and my first article was published yesterday.

From the street, Reno’s 1920s wood frame bungalow doesn’t look like a farmhouse. The house needs a fresh coat of paint and the grounds could use some maintenance. But, there are no hints of Reno’s brood other than the occasional sounds coming from the turkey or chickens. Sometimes when the driveway is clear chickens can be seen wandering near the gate. Other than those hints, there are no barnyard smells evident on a cool spring morning.

Reno home as seen from Feld Avenue.

Reno’s livestock numbers have gone down since neighbors first became concerned about the conditions after hearing roosters crowing at all hours of the day and night. In April she gave away the three roosters and a cat killed one of the ducks Reno had been keeping in a wire dog crate. Another home for the remaining duck was found last week.

Adult turkey and chickens in the Decatur yard.

One of three goats plays beneath a trampoline in the yard.

Although Reno harvests eggs from her chickens, the animals serve no economic purpose. She doesn’t plan to slaughter any of the birds and the goats are pets. Commenters on Reno’s blog and in her Twitter timeline laud her sustainability but does having a large brood of animals in the middle of a thriving urban neighborhood equate with sustainability?

There’s no denying that Reno’s children and their Oakhurst neighbors benefit from the educational opportunities afforded by the animals. Reno takes them to school and she readily lets children feed and play with the animals.

But what about Decatur’s health and sanitation codes that limit livestock to larger parcels and that require adequate setbacks between chicken coops and animal pens and neighboring residences?

Attorney Floyd thinks Decatur’s law is clear and that a reasonable person would read it and find that Reno’s property is a public nuisance. In a letter to Decatur’s mayor and city commissioners, Floyd wrote that Reno’s property violates

Code Section 14-32 by creating public nuisances due to the large number of animals (3 livestock (goats) and approximately 50-75 fowl) residing on a small parcel within the City creating loud noises (24/7 crowing of roosters within 25-31 feet of my home – which were removed after Animal Control Officer Cantrell’s visit) and noxious odors from the feces of so many animals.  Additionally, the poor feeding habits (i.e. multiple food containers located on ground within 25-31 feet of my home and throwing of food along my fence line) have been a significant cause in my encountering a rat infestation problem and increase of flies.  While there are rat issues in the City, the addition of free ranging hens laying eggs around the abutting property and the placement of food for the fowl directly on the ground within 25-31 feet from my home are believed to be the significant cause of my current rodent problems according to my professional rodent exterminator.

Animals in cities are nothing new. I’ve written on urban stockyards and slaughterhouses and animal byproducts industries. The reasons why homeowners don’t want livestock in proximity to their homes are many and compelling.

As the push towards more sustainability puts pressure on local officials to relax the restrictions on livestock in residential neighborhoods, communities need to ensure that there are clear lines demarcating where sustainability and farming begin and where pet keeping ends.

Update: Read the follow-up to my original Patch article.

Update: Read the Storify posts about covering this story:

  • Trouble in the Patch (5/05/2011)
  • Patch Reports on Decatur Citations, Fails to Disclose Role in Community Flap (5/10/2011)

Update: The City of Decatur ordered Reno to abate multiple nuisances at her property (5/10/2011).

5 thoughts on “Urban farm or neighborhood nuisance? Decatur to decide (Updated)

  1. It is totally unreasonable to live in a residential area and then try to turn a small lot into a farm! More unreasonable still is that the regulations are not being enforced. Frankly, I think it is unsanitary to keep that many animals in a residential area. It is also unreasonable and inconsiderate to create a chicken coop that close to another neighbor’s property whether the animal are for “educational” purposes or not. The “FARM” owner could move to an agricultural area to have her “farm”.

  2. As the facades surrounding an unsustainable and economically untenable suburban paradigm continue to crumble, we will see more and more Americans seeking to blend the simplicity and reality of smallholding and farming into the plasticity and unreality of modern, suburban living.

    As such, individuals such as Ms Reno should be applauded and encouraged as they take their first steps in this direction. She does her neighbors and her neighborhood (particularly the children) a great service by exposing them to a way of live that, while optional or obsolete formthe last 2-3 generations of ‘refined’ and urbane Americans, will increasingly become the ‘new normal’ for future generations forced to live within the harsh economic realities we have created. As these harsh realities take hold, individuals such as Ms Reno will be one step ahead of their suburbanized neighbors who will find themselves increasingly frustrated as long supply chains break down due to high commodity costs, regulatory uncertainty, and the increasing rapidity of dollar depreciation. The result will be scarcity: something most Americans have not experienced for generations.

    • I agree with you 100%. But Reno’s animals are pets. And according to her, they always will be. You cannot paint all animals and how they are kept with broad brushstrokes. Doing so damages legitimate efforts to break down unsustainable 20th century zoning codes.

      • I agree with being self-sufficient–I have chickens, pigs and steer– but who can eat 50-75 eggs a day? I live on an acre in the country and only have 4 laying hens. Four eggs a day is plenty for the four of us living in my home. I used to have 13 and would give some to friends in need or sell an occasional dozen, but my labrador–that we no longer have–decided she liked the taste of FRESH chicken! I now have 18 new laying chicks and anticipate having plenty of eggs to share in about 6 months. They free range on a half acre and I cannot imagine having as many as 75 in the suburbs. That is just insane! I bet the smell in the summer heat is nauseating.

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