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Grady County commissioners on Tuesday allowed a moratorium on the issuance of permits for new chicken houses and other animal feed operations in the county to expire and took no action to strengthen existing ordinances regulating such operations.
The moratorium was originally instituted in March and subsequently extended in June to Sept. 1. After nearly six months of holding off the expansion of chicken houses in the community, nothing has changed.
However, it was not without a fight as commissioners June Knight and Ray Prince both pushed for extending existing setbacks for new chicken houses to 500 feet from the right-of-way and 2,000 feet from the nearest habitable dwelling, which is stricter than the existing 200 feet and 1,500 feet in the current code.
In a workshop last week, Knight and Prince pushed for the changes, but they were opposed by Chairman Keith Moye and Vice Chairman Phillip Drew. Moye told commissioners that, when operated properly, chicken houses were not a nuisance and Vice Chairman Drew said he preferred to wait and see if state agriculture department inspectors would enforce regulations, which would address the source of local complaints regarding the smell from the facilities as well as other complaints.
It did not take long for the county to see where the state stands. J.C. (Buddy) Johnson III, Grady County administrator, said that state officials had notified local officials that the case regarding complaints filed about a particular local chicken house had been “closed.”
Prince said that was as he had expected after having had firsthand experience as a major local farmer and dealing with state inspectors and state agency personnel. “That’s about what they do. There’s no change,” Prince said.
Prince had advocated for the tougher setbacks as a temporary fix until the county could implement countywide zoning. Knight, no vocal fan of zoning, was strongly in support of tightening the regulations.
Knight and Prince made another push to expand the setback Tuesday since Commissioner LaFaye Copeland had been able to join in the meeting via conference call. In her absence last week, the board was deadlocked 2-2 on the matter.
“I feel like after the state is not getting more involved then we have to. I can tell you how it will work. This is how the state is going to do. They aren’t going to do anything about cleaning up or anything regarding smell,” Prince said.
Commissioner Copeland cast her vote Tuesday with Moye and Drew in opposition to changing the existing ordinance. She said that it was a matter that should be discussed “down the road” when the board considers comprehensive zoning.
“I don’t think adding the 500 feet from a residence will make a big difference. If they want to come in they will get the extra land from somewhere and with COVID-19 we need all the revenue we can get,” Commissioner Copeland said.