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Flap Over Fowl and Goats in Oakhurst

Two animal lovers await the outcome of Decatur city investigation.

Stacy Reno loves animals. So does Tanya Floyd.  The two Oakhurst neighbors disagree, however, on the type and number of animals appropriate for individual residential lots in their densely developed Decatur neighborhood.

on the City of Decatur acting on a complaint Floyd filed that Reno was keeping livestock at her home. Officials cited Reno for having three goats, a violation of Decatur health and sanitation codes. The when it learned that Reno’s goats are Nigerian pygmy goats. Since 2000, the city has considered the breed pets, not livestock.

The disagreement among the neighbors spilled out onto blogs and Twitter and Decatur officials are investigating. Behind the investigation and the Internet exchanges is a story of two people who love animals, the environment, and their funky Oakhurst community.

Reno is a realtor who lives with her husband and children in a modest frame bungalow on the west side of Feld Avenue. Reno’s house is about 1,900 square feet and it sits within an irregularly shaped 8,200-square-foot lot. Zoned R-60, the Renos live in a single-family residential district. City laws regulate the size, setback, and types of buildings allowable in residential districts. And, they regulate uses, including the raising of livestock.

Floyd is an environmental attorney who lives behind Reno on Cambridge Avenue. Floyd’s home also is zoned R-60 and she lives alone with her two dogs on a quiet street where chats with neighbors during dog walks can stretch for hours. When strangers approach one of the homes, emails are sent and calls are made to ensure the resident knows of the activities.

Both women love their neighborhood and their neighbors. Aside from a brief encounter at the wood privacy fence that separates their properties, Reno and Floyd have never really spoken. When Reno popped her head over the fence one day last year to announce, “We’ve got chickens now,” Floyd wasn’t too concerned about living next to a few of the birds.

“I think urban farming and chicken coops, I think it’s a cool thing,” Floyd explained while sitting in her living room.

“That’s fine with me,” she added. “I’m thinking a couple of chickens, you know two, three, maybe five, I’m not thinking fifty or however many it actually is.”

According to Reno, by last week the number of animals living on her property included 17 hens, 12 baby chickens, an adult turkey, two ducks, and three pygmy goats. The Renos also have two dogs, two cats, a turtle, and pet fish.

Last month Reno gave away three roosters that also had been living in her yard. One of the ducks was killed by a cat and late last week Reno found a home for the second duck.

Reno harvests eggs from the fowl. The goats and birds are pets. “These are members of my family,” Reno explained. “Instead of my kids sitting in front of the TV in the afternoons and evenings, my daughter says hey, let’s go out and sit with the chickens.”

The animals live in Reno’s back yard. She has constructed wire and wood frame coops for the birds. One large coop abuts the rear fence adjacent to Floyd’s yard. Other coops are scattered throughout the yard where the chickens, turkey, and goats wander freely beneath a trampoline and other yard furniture.

Floyd and other neighbors first became concerned about the types and number of animals living in Reno’s yard earlier this year when roosters could be heard crowing day and night.

Like most of the neighbors interviewed along Feld Avenue, Katie Pugh considers Reno a friend and she loves Reno’s animals. “The chickens never bother me so I never hear the chickens or anything,” Pugh said. “But I don’t live right next door or right up against it so I don’t know what it’s like.”

Pugh admitted that the roosters may have been a little too much. “Stacy’s my friend. We’ve talked about it and I wouldn’t have liked the roosters," Pugh said. “But she doesn’t have the roosters any more so I mean I really think the goats are precious.”

Reno’s friend Karen Rawle lives two houses down. The Reno and Rawle families have been friends for years, long before the Rawles moved from East Lake to Oakhurst last year.

Rawle enjoys letting her kids play with Reno’s animals and she appreciates the educational opportunities afforded by Reno’s animals. “When she got the little baby goats, my kids got to go over there and feed goats,” Rawle said.

Reno’s coops are clearly visible across the tops of fences from Rawle’s back yard. The duck, chickens, and turkey were audible on a recent morning at Rawle's home. There was a light breeze but no livestock smells from the Reno yard.

“I have not experienced a smell,” Rawle said. But, she added, “I haven’t lived here in the summer and she has more animals than she did last summer.”

Although Rawle easily admits that Reno is an animal lover, she is concerned that her neighbor may have gotten in over her head with the number and diversity of animals.

All of the people who live along Feld and Cambridge who were interviewed for this story expressed concern for the health and welfare of the animals. Folks like Rawle and Pugh clearly believe that Reno’s animals are being treated humanely and that they are not creating a public nuisance. Reno is adamant that her animals are well-treated and that they are being housed in a lawful manner.

According to Decatur Assistant City Manager David Junger, there is an open investigation into the conditions at the Reno property. The investigation was prompted by complaints filed April 14 by Floyd shortly after the attorney discovered rats in her kitchen.

Floyd believes that the conditions in the Reno lot and the proximity of animal pens to her home are inhumane, unlawful, and the source of the rats. “I would like strict compliance of the setback requirements, the housing requirements, and the livestock,” Floyd said.

The Reno family’s lot is 50 feet wide, and Decatur’s animal ordinance requires a setback of at least 50 feet from neighboring houses. The code also requires at least four square feet of living space per adult animal.

Reno's coops are about 31 feet from Floyd's home office and about 30 feet from Floyd's laundry room, which is next to her kitchen in the rear of the house.

Gary Peiffer is a Georgia state agricultural extension agent stationed in DeKalb County. Peiffer said that pygmy goats require little space. “They can fit in very small spaces, even the same amount you would have for a dog,” he said.

Peiffer said the types of animals kept in Reno’s yard pose little threat of disease to humans and pets.

“The main thing that tricky about all those animals though is other animals will also be a problem. That’s what they need to keep in mind, also, is that other animals will prey on them, especially chickens,” Peiffer explained.

Last week Floyd photographed a dead duck in Reno’s yard. Reno wrote in her blog and on Twitter that the duck had been killed by a cat.

Another neighbor witnessed one of Reno’s goats standing unattended. “I heard a goat and then I saw the goat. A small goat,” said Steve Cobb, an Indiana resident who is staying at his son’s Feld Avenue home across the street from Reno.

Reno’s goat was captured by children who live down the street.

Reno explained that the goat had escaped by climbing over the fence. She said that the condition that allowed the goat to escape has been corrected.

Besides the animals’ welfare, extension agent Peiffer noted that urban animals can create nuisances. Noise and odors are the leading complaints, he said. “But the big issue on most chickens is the noise so you do want to make sure that people have hens and not roosters. Because if they have even one rooster, it’s going to be so annoying the neighbors are going force them to get rid of the chickens.”

Before Reno got rid of her roosters, however, Floyd and other neighbors could hear them at all hours of the day and night.

Helena Ekpfadt lives on Cambridge and remembers the roosters. “Yes, I’ve heard roosters, half a year, maybe less,” she said. “I know that I didn’t hear them in the beginning and then I knew about them and then I heard them.”

The flap over the fowl and the goats has impacted Reno and Floyd deeply. Reno is distressed that strangers are commenting on her animals without knowing the details of the situation. “I feel a little invaded,” Reno lamented. “I feel a little – people on the message board calling me a hoarder. You know, somebody that’s never even met me. That was upsetting.”

Reno may have exacerbated the attention she is receiving by tweeting about the situation and by posting photos and comments on her blog, The Crazy Chicken Lady. She dubbed the episode “Chickengate 2011” in one post last week.

Floyd has spent nearly $4,000 on repairs to her house and in fixing the pest problem she says stem from Reno’s animals. She no longer invites friends and family over and she has stopped cooking in her kitchen.

“It’s quite frankly embarrassing to have friends over and you don’t want to have a dinner party and sit around the back patio and have cocktails and try and eat dinner with farm smells coming through,” Floyd said.

Reno and Floyd both hope that the situation is resolved this week when Decatur officials meet at the Reno property to inspect the animals’ living conditions and evaluate whether the animal pens are violating the city’s setback requirements.

Reno hopes that the solution doesn’t force her to get rid of any more of her animals.

Floyd wants her Oakhurst neighborhood to return to the quiet friendly community it was before the arrival of roosters, goats, ducks, and the turkey. “Basically, give these animals the life that they should have,” Floyd said. “I truly believe that she deeply loves those animals.”

Rob Young May 03, 2011 at 07:37 PM
Sounds like somebody needs to go buy a farm in the county. I'm all for a few chickens but this is turning into a zoo or a farm at this point
Luke May 04, 2011 at 05:35 AM
I dont know how anybody can have this many animals in a small yard and not expect to receive complaints about the noise, smell and general unsightliness. I'd like to see where in the city ordinance it says pygmy goats arent considered livestock. A few chickens are ok but thats about it. City managers need to put a stop to this many animals in the city. Its not fair to the animals or the people that have to live near them.
Michelle May 04, 2011 at 01:46 PM
Is Patch having trouble finding an unbiased reporter for this story? It seems it can only be one or the other. It also seems like all of this could have been handled through a simple conversation between Floyd and Reno.
Christine May 04, 2011 at 03:49 PM
This story seems extremely biased against Stacy. I was one of many neighbors that was interviewed about the animals most of whom gave positive feedback on this situation. Besides the roosters, which Stacy got rid of, no one that I know of (besides the one neighbor who filed the complaint), has had a problem. Stacy and her family have lived here for around nine years. She is a wonderful and helpful neighbor to everyone. It is very sad that the reporter seemed to be really seeking out ways to try to get people he was interviewing to say negative comments.
David Rotenstein May 04, 2011 at 03:52 PM
Michelle, I think I reported the story fairly. I'm not sure how you concluded that my reporting is biased. I interviewed people on both sides of the issue and outside experts. I criticized neither party nor did I defend anyone's actions. I left my personal opinions out of the story -- yes, I like all reporters do have personal opinions -- and I simply reported what I observed and what my sources told me.
Bob H. May 05, 2011 at 12:38 AM
Finally, fairer reporting! I thought the article was still little biased for Reno. Thank you for contacting neighbors and providing more of the story. The City needs to take action and stop this!
Michelle May 05, 2011 at 02:50 AM
David, I was pleased to see that Patch had contacted neighbors for the full story, especially the one that filed the complaint. However, your personal opinion is obvious in the story because you present negative ideas about Reno independently, without a supporting quote from a neighbor or outside expert ("Reno may have exacerbated the attention she is receiving by tweeting about the situation and by posting photos and comments on her blog, The Crazy Chicken Lady"). This is your personal opinion and using "may have" doesn't excuse you from inserting it into what you claim is an unbiased story. What is most telling is that you don't address why Floyd never made any attempt to contact Reno about the issue, which seems out of place in the friendly neighborhood you describe. I don't live in Oakhurst, own any pets, or know either of these people. I've never been in Reno's backyard or Floyd's kitchen and so I can't pretend to know who is right in this situation. However, I think this issue is an important example of how being neighborly can avoid these ridiculous situations. If Floyd truly has had thousands of dollars worth of damage to her home because of Reno's animals, why on earth did she not approach Reno with her concerns sooner? Reno is obviously willing to make changes to appease others. All of this nonsense could have been avoided.
Judy Glover May 05, 2011 at 04:06 AM
The first story in this series was extremely biased against Floyd, and that reporter did not even attempt to get at the truth. This story is more factually based.
Katy May 05, 2011 at 02:29 PM
The author of this article clearly had an agenda in going into this story. I'm not an expert, but I thought journalism was supposed to steer clear of this type of behavior. As a neighbor of the Renos, we have NEVER had a complaint about her animals and most of our neighbors have the same story. Where are all of the positive quotes about the Reno's animals and the Renos in general that so many neighbors gave to this "reporter". I think my favorite part is that my Father-in-Law was interviewed and quoted in this article (sarcasm included). As an Indiana resident who was staying the weekend at our house, why was he even considered a credible source on this issue? When he told the "reporter" that he did not live in Decatur, why would anyone continue to question him? As for his statement about the goat getting out... seriously? Just last week, Stacy rang my doorbell and returned my dog that had escaped without my knowledge. It happens. What is the difference? This entire situation is ridiculous and could/should have been handled with a simple conversation between neighbors.
Louise w Billingsley May 12, 2011 at 10:33 PM
I live at 153 Feld ave next door to StaCEY Reno and was interview for this article. I told the reporter I had no complains with the animals. That the roosters brought back a sense of times past when there was some transquillity in an otherwise out of control world. We do not have any complaint with the animals. I am sadden THAT WE WERE MISQUOTED OR disregarded all together. Stacey, Bob and the girls are great neighbors. give us a break. Louise Billingsleyl
Ms Jones May 31, 2011 at 05:56 AM
You would think this is an issue exclusive to your area. Urban farming is not exclusive. It is exploding across the country. These same issues affect all of us who live in cities. Urban farms are unreasonable. Reno's neighbor said she found rats in her kitchen as a result of Reno having farm 'pets'. Even as you are debating over it, they are somewhere breeding. Do you think they will limit their population to Reno and Floyd alone? They will breed very quickly and spread to every home in your community. Urban farm advocates are not taking into consideration the effect these food farms will have on communities years down the road. Health and sanitation is down-played. Reality is, Reno has a micro farm in a residential urban area. A wonderful, fun novelty at the moment. Reno should have asked her neighbors before inflicting a rural environment into an urban setting. It is both naive and selfish. I feel the same way about city dwellers moving to rural farm areas and expecting farmers to do something about the smell of manure and farm animals. Sorry, this is not an exclusive issue. Finding rats in my kitchen would be enough. What gives Reno the right to exasperate her neighbor's peace of mind and well being? I'm a city dweller. I do not want to live next door to a farm. If any of you should decide to sell your home some day what will be the market value after all this?
David Rotenstein May 31, 2011 at 10:56 AM
Ms. Jones, you might be correct if what existed were in fact an urban farm. Since the animals are pets and are used as a neighborhood attraction, it's use is more akin to a petting zoo than a farm. I know of no zoning codes that allow for petting zoos in residential districts.
David September 22, 2011 at 02:57 PM
I live in Oakhurst and appreciate that the Decatur community has not overly invested in cultural laws. High fives to Katie and Michelle for their encouragement for folks to work things out among themselves. I have an urban flock. I've had as many as 17 chickens and as few as 3. Smaller works for me and my neighbors. Occasionally my chickens escape. I feel grateful to live in a neighborhood where there is a largely live and let live ethos. May it continue. And may these two neighbors find a middle ground where both can be happy.

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