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.