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Planning Commission says birds must go

Kellie Gilmore and Charlie "Wormy" Newton have vowed to appeal a recent ruling by the McDuffie County Planning Commission that prohibits them from having pet chickens at their home in the Belle Meade subdivision near Thomson.

"These are exotic birds - not your regular farm-raised chickens," Ms. Gilmore told The McDuffie Mirror during an interview at her home last Thursday. "We've got to do something to save our little birds. They are pets and like members of our family."

The little chickens, none of which weigh more than a pound or more than 10 inches tall, have become the topic of discussion of late by neighbors living in the subdivision off Washington Road.

Ms. Gilmore and Mr. Newton, who share a home on the 2800 block of Deer Trail Road, contend that their exotic birds don't venture out of the yard or get onto the nearby golf course.

"We have had these birds since June 13, 2009," said Ms. Gilmore. "And nobody has ever complained about them until now. I just don't understand it."

Mr. Newton, a well-known businessman in McDuffie County, says there's no validity behind those complaints.

"These birds don't smell and there is no odor, whatsoever, in the yard," said Mr. Newton. "They just want to get something started, because some people are just like that -- got to start something so they can like themselves. It doesn't make an ounce of sense. These little birds ain't bothering a soul."

Fred Guerrant, director of the Thomson-McDuffie Planning and Zoning Department, said he has received 24 email complaints and 12 telephone calls from Belle Meade residents wanting something done to rid the birds from the affluent neighborhood.

"Very briefly, the majority of those complaining were not in favor of the granting Ms. Gilmore the variance to have such domesticated farm animals," said Mr. Guerrant. "Most of them were afraid it would escalate into having many other farm animals."

During a variance hearing before a five-member county planning commission, both Ms. Gilmore and Mr. Newton addressed officials. After hearing from the couple, as well as Mr. Guerrant, planning commissioners decided to reject the variance request. The vote was unanimous.

The planning commission consists of the following members: Chairman Charles Wallace; Vice-Chairman Ron Hickman and members Georgia Hobbs, Don McCorkle and Jimmy Poston.

Many who have filed complaints don't live near Ms. Gilmore or Mr. Newton.

"It isn't right what they are doing to us and I'm planning on fighting it all the way to Superior Court if I have to," said Mr. Newton. "I've already got an attorney on top of it."

Ms. Gilmore agrees.

"We're going to appeal this to the full board of county commissioners," said Ms. Gilmore.

"These are my pets and I shouldn't be forced to give them away or have them killed just because some people don't like us having these birds as pets. They are clean and non-smelly. I love these birds. I even have names for all 12 of them."

At least two neighbors support Ms. Gilmore and Mr. Newton. They are Paul Leroy and Henry Thomas.

"We go out of our way to go by and see those chickens every chance we get," said Mr. Leroy, a retired businessman, coach and former member of the McDuffie County Board of Education.

"I don't have any problem with them having those chickens," said Mr. Thomas, a retired educator and former assistant golf coach at Augusta State University.

Ms. Gilmore plans to appeal the decision to the county board of commissioners at the Oct. 19 meeting. The meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. in the grand jury room of the county courthouse.

"I don't know if it will do any good, but I'm willing to do whatever I can do to keep my pet birds," added Ms. Gilmore. "I've just got to do something because I'm so depressed. I can't sleep. And I can't concentrate because I keep wondering what's going to happen to my beautiful little birds."

Web posted on Thursday, October 14, 2010

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