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Commissioners uphold ruling that Belle Meade birds must go

The exotic birds at a residence in the Belle Meade subdivision near Thomson must go.

That's the latest word from members of the McDuffie County Board of Commissioners. During last Tuesday night's commission meeting, Commissioners Paul McCorkle and Bill Jopling decided to uphold an earlier ruling this year by members of the McDuffie Planning Commission to deny a request from Kellie Gilmore and Charles "Wormy" Newton, III, to allow them a variance which would have allowed them to keep their exotic birds.

"If you could tell me what they're hurting," said Ms. Gilmore, as she pleaded her case to commissioners at the county courthouse last Tuesday night. "They're pets. I love all my animals."

She presented commissioners with the names of several residents who live in the subdivision and don't mind the birds. The birds have been referred to by some people as fowl or chickens. Ms. Gilmore and Mr. Newton, who have had the little birds since June 13, 2009, say their pets are actually exotic birds.

A current county ordinance prohibits the couple from being allowed to keep the birds on their property. The couple, who share a home on the 2800 block of Deer Trail Road, live in a residential district zoned R-2.

Fred Guerrant, director of the county planning department, said domesticated animals are forbidden on property with that particular zoning.

The planning board voted unanimously at their Oct. 5 meeting to reject Ms. Gilmore and Mr. Newton's request for a variance that would have allowed them to keep their exotic birds.

The couple decided to appeal to that ruling to the full board of commissioners on Oct. 29. It was at that meeting that commissioners granted the birds a little bit of a reprieve until the issue could be studied a little more by Mr. Guerrant. The reprieve was for 30 days.

"You guys are trying to make me kowtow to pet preferences," said Ms. Gilmore at last week's commission meeting.

Ms. Gilmore invited anyone concerned about her and Mr. Newton having the birds at their home to visit them so she could show them that the birds are harmless and don't get onto the golf course, etc.

She claimed the birds do not decrease property values.

"I love my pets," added Ms. Gilmore. "They're not just something I have to aggravate you" she told more than a dozen residents opposed to her view.

William "Bill" Coleman, a lawyer, and a resident of the subdivision addressed the opposing viewpoints of residents.

"I would suggest to you that if you grant this variance then the next person who comes up has to be treated the same way," said Mr. Coleman. "You can see by the large number of persons here against it that many of them feel it may affect their ability to sell their house."

Mr. Coleman also said, "I think the thing to do is apply the law as it exists and not grant the variance."

Mr. McCorkle said he did not personally see a problem with Ms. Gilmore and Mr. Newton having the birds.

"But it's very evident from the outpouring of the public that we have here tonight that there's a definitely opposition to it," added Mr. McCorkle.

He later made a motion that received a second from Mr. Jopling to turn down the couple's request to grant the variance they requested

Web posted on Thursday, November 25, 2010

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