Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sarasota Herald Tribune: Make room for chickens

The following editorial appeared in the Sarasota Herald Tribune on Sunday January 16th, 2011. You may prefer to visit the Sarasota Herald Tribune website, if so, click here. The online version includes a photograph and the front page of the local section contains a related news story: FOWL FACTIONS' FINAL FACE-OFF
Make room for chickens
Changes proposed by proponents make city ordinance doable
When it comes to birds in American culture, with all due respect to the bald eagle, none occupies as prominent a perch as the chicken.
If we're scared, we might chicken out. We're taught early on the fable of Chicken Little. We joke about why the chicken crossed the road. We're warned not to let the fox guard the henhouse. The list goes on.
Despite reams of chicken lore, however, the thought of barnyard fowls taking up residence in a neighbor's yard makes some Sarasota city residents uneasy.
The Herald-Tribune Editorial Board has been among the skeptics of a proposal to allow a small number of chickens to be raised at single-family homes in the city. In a Dec. 6 editorial we said the idea merited consideration, but we cited "valid concerns about enforcement difficulties, the measure's overly broad sweep and lack of buy-in from neighborhoods."
We suggested that alternatives to address these shortcomings should be brought before the City Commission, which is scheduled to vote on the issue this Tuesday.
The proponents of backyard coops have risen to the challenge. Sarasota CLUCK (Citizens Lobbying for Urban Chicken Keeping) has offered changes to the proposed ordinance that address many of the concerns about setbacks, odors and animal welfare.
We believe that, with those and maybe other changes, the commission and staff can create an ordinance that protects the city's interests and lets some residents raise a small number of chickens safely, cleanly and with little or no disturbance of their neighbors.
Added restrictions
If the changes are incorporated, the ordinance would, among other things:
Restrict chicken keeping to single-family residences. Any private deed restrictions contrary to the ordinance would take precedence.
No roosters would be allowed, no hens could be slaughtered and no eggs from backyard nests could be sold.
The number of chickens would be strictly limited. City staff recommends a maximum of four; CLUCK would prefer six.
No coop or fenced enclosure could be located in a front yard and would have to be at least 10 feet from any property line and at least 25 feet from an adjacent residential structure.
Odors from chickens, manure or chicken-related substances could not be detectable at any property line.
Henhouses or coops must be impermeable to rodents, wild birds and predators, including cats and dogs.
Also, CLUCK has agreed to take an informal role in enforcing any ordinance and to provide education in chicken keeping to all those interested.
A growing trend
As noted in our previous editorial, "experience elsewhere suggests that odors, noise, pests and sanitary problems are unlikely in a yard that has adequate space."
And the experience elsewhere is substantial. Raising backyard chickens has spread to numerous cities across the country in recent years, as more people seek a sustainable lifestyle and local foods. Fresh eggs are said to be safer, tastier and more nutritious than the store-bought variety. And chicken manure can be used to fertilize gardens.
CLUCK and city staff have taken their proposals to meetings of neighborhood associations, and the reaction has been mixed: Some support the idea, others oppose it, and many are neutral. The Council of City Neighborhood Associations, which includes most of the neighborhood groups, voted not to take a stand on the issue, either for or against.
We suspect that many city residents are wary of backyard chicken keeping because of a lack of exposure or familiarity with the practice. While it is allowed in Sarasota County, it has been banned in the city since 1914.
Raising a small number of chickens may be as safe, clean and relatively trouble-free as the proponents say, but their neighbors might need to be convinced. A trial period of sufficient length, set by the commission, might be beneficial to the city and residents, including the proponents.
Urban chicken keeping has been successful elsewhere and we're confident that, with at least some of the proposed changes and responsible ownership, it can work in Sarasota. But the ancient wisdom of not counting your chickens before they hatch may especially apply in this case.

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