You Can Fight City Hall
One thing about having chickens in an urban area is you never know how your neighbors will react. Usually people have chickens in their backyards, so they are out of sight.
We, on the other hand, have our chickens on the side of our .25 acre corner lot. We’ve gone to great lengths to make sure our property with a huge front yard garden, solar panels, rain barrels, and coop, look ascetically appealing. And by great lengths, I mean time and expense.
None of our neighbors seemed to mind, or said anything negative to us, or complained….until…
After having our chickens for about a year, we decided that we wanted to give them more room, but still have them be protected.
We had enclosed a large area of our side yard for the girls, but always had to be out when they were out of their chicken coop because of aerial predators, such as hawks and eagles.
We decided to build up our 4-foot fence up to 8 feet and put heavy duty poultry netting on top that was also supported by cabling. It was during the construction of this project that I was visited by Raleigh City code enforcement officer.
Apparently there was an anonymous complaint (pretty sure we know who is was) about our “chicken structure,” to what we assumed was the fencing. Code enforcement only acts on complaints.
I was told by the code enforcement officer that I needed a permit for the fence and he explained to me how I could apply for it online. He was nice and helpful and sympathetic.
We took a proactive approach and immediately applied for a fencing permit after speaking to a supervisor in code enforcement the following day, he assured us that our chicken coop didn’t require a permit because it didn’t meet requirements of an accessory structure that would require one, which was length and square footage.
Foolishly confident that we just needed to apply for a fence permit, we submitted our application with a plot plan that showed in detail the fence length and height, materials used, setback from the street and we even included the chicken coop to give perspective. (This was where our belief we were doing the right thing went horribly wrong)
Like most city bureaucracy, a permit application goes through different departments and different people, with different interpretations of the rules and regulations.
That’s where it all went to…. well, you know the rest.
Someone in the permit department informed us our coop did not meet the required setback for an accessory structure. This was because our street looped around and on the side of our house it was still the same street. This made it so we essentially had no side of our house, only frontage, and our coop did not meet the 50’ setback from the street then.
Interestingly enough, it did meet the required 20’ setback for an accessory structure on the side of your house.
So what did all this mean? If we didn’t move our coop, we would be fined severely and daily.
So what did we do?
Moving our coop wasn’t an option we wanted to explore, for reasons too numerous to list.
So we hired a land use lawyer and applied for a variance and had a hearing in front of the city board scheduled for early February 2019.
It was an extremely stressful time, just thinking of other options if needed to keep our coop and our chickens. The American Coop weighs 1200 lbs., and we added a pergola to it, which has the four posts cemented in the ground. That couldn’t be moved.
The worst part was this neighbor (an unhappy guy who lives next door and plays loud music all the time in his garage) wanted to be spiteful, and in doing so, he caused us a lot of stress. The truth is, the coop doesn’t bother him; he can’t even see it from his house. There are no HOAs in my neighborhood, and all the neighbors like what we have done. But because he doesn’t like us personally, his ‘anonymous’ call, spiraled for us in ways we could have never foreseen.
Our argument for the variance was that it would be a hardship to move it. We also argued that any reasonable property owner would say the coop is on the side and not have interpreted the layout as the city did.
We had a bunch of our neighbors volunteer to write letters to the board of adjustments for our hearing. The letters had to be notarized and we got over a dozen. People wanted to help us. We engage with our neighbors and share produce and eggs, and their children and grandchildren love visiting the chickens.
Another aspect that worked in our favor was the city was not consistent or clear about the code and permitting. A point our lawyer argued, saying if the people working for the city can’t give us the same answer, how are homeowners supposed to know what is right or not?
Plus photos of our beautiful American Coop didn’t hurt our case.
During the hearing, many friends/neighbors showed up to support us. We were very prepared. The city doubled down on their position that we needed a permit for the coop and if we had gotten one, we would have been told about the setback.
However, we had email correspondence from a supervisor in code enforcement that clearly stated our coop didn’t require a permit. And the city’s attempt to confuse the board and cast us in an irresponsible light didn’t work.
We got our variance.
There is always an upside. Despite all the stress, (I really stressed about this a lot) and the expense, we found out more about what is allowed and what isn’t allowed.
We also have peace of mind that no one can call the city now and say we can’t have a chicken coop or a fence around the coop, or any other nonsense that someone might think of. Everything is permitted and completely legal in the eyes of the city.
So, the lessons here are:
Not everyone is a “live and let live” kind of neighbor.
Find out what the code and restrictions are about chickens, coops, and accessory structures in your area.
Make sure you know about setbacks from your property line before you place your coop.
Do all your due diligence before you get chickens and a coop, no matter where you want to place it on your property.
During tough times, your friends/neighbors can be pretty awesome.
We are fortunate that the outcome was a positive one for us. Almost everyone (including many we spoke to in the city offices) have that one neighbor that wants to cause trouble.
Our coop stays where it is and the neighbors can still enjoy it almost as much as we do.
Until next time,
—Ingrid, Crazy Chicken Lady