Friday, October 4, 2013

Monday, August 12, 2013

Jacksonville Planning Staff: Anti-Chicken Speculation Posing as Objective Analysis?

Elected officials rely on their planning staffs for objective consideration of proposed changes to ordinances and codes. Staff are expected to use the best available data and analysis when they issue reports. That's not to say their professional experience should not be brought to bear, but it should be substantiated, if not because elected leaders may be linking their reputation to their reliance on staff analysis, then because government decisions sometimes need to withstand legal challenge.

The City of Jacksonville, Florida has been considering relaxing the rules on chicken keeping. Jacksonville is unique because the City boundary is synonymous with the (Duval) county boundary. Staff was asked to weigh in on the proposed changes, and has done so. [Planning Staff Report 2013-0415].

The question is: does their analysis reflect the best available professional information, or is it really a collection of unsubstantiated and unreferenced allegations that cannot stand up to scrutiny?

Probably the most current and authoritative review of current "backyard chicken" laws is Jaime Bovier's Illegal Fowl: A Survey of Municipal Laws Relating to Backyard Poultry and a Model Ordinance for Regulating City Chickens, which was published by Environmental Law Institute®, Washington, DC. This 33 page report was not produced by a chicken advocacy group, but rather a group that "fosters, innovative, just and practical law and policy solutions to enable leaders across borders and sectors to make environmental, economic, and social progress."

So let's compare just three examples of Jacksonville Planning Staff (JPS) statements with findings of the ELI report:


While four hens may not sound like much, the peace and tranquility of a single family neighborhood could very well be altered when multiple neighbors introduce chickens. As the hens are treated as accessory uses (due to being placed under 656.403), the setback standards are merely five feet from the nearest side and rear property line. It may well be inappropriate to allow hens so close to a neighboring yard and dwelling.

The most frequently expressed concern is that hens will be noisy. This may come from associating roosters with hens. Roosters are noisy.81 Hens are not particularly noisy. While they will cluck, the clucking is neither loud nor frequent.82 The clucking of hens is commonly compared to human conversation—both register around 65 decibels.83 By contrast, the barking of a single dog can reach levels well over 100 decibels.84
It should also be noted that chickens have a homing instinct to roost and sleep at night. A hen will return to her coop at night and generally fall asleep before or at sundown.85 Thus, there should be little concern with clucking hens disturbing a neighborhood at night.


There are thousands of single-family dwellings, both new and old, with minimal yard space. This could result in the concentration of chicken droppings, possibly leading to odor and health issues. There are no specific rules or regulations regarding the disposal or management of the droppings. Therefore, neighbors would have to rely on Animal Care and Control to enforce Section 462.301(c) . . .

Many people are concerned that chicken droppings will cause odors that reach neighbors and perhaps even affect the neighborhood. These concerns may stem from publicized reports of odors from large poultry operations.86 While it is no doubt true that the odors coming from these intensive commercial-scale chicken farms is overwhelming and harmful,87 these operations often have hundreds of thousands of chickens in very small spaces.88
Most of the odor that people may associate with poultry is actually ammonia. Ammonia, however, is a product of a poorly ventilated and moist coop.89 Coop designs for backyard hens should take this into account and allow for proper ventilation. And, if coops are regularly cleaned, there should be little to no odor associated with the hens.90


One of the main purposes of the Zoning Code is to provide property owners with a reasonable expectation of how neighboring properties can be developed. A current expectation is that farm animals are not allowed in residential developments. The introduction of hens could have an impact upon the desirability of living in certain neighborhoods, thereby impacting property values. 

Another common concern is that keeping backyard chick- ens will reduce surrounding property values.108 Several studies, however, have found that agricultural uses within the city actually increase property values.109 Community gardens increase neighboring property values by as much as 9.4% when the garden is first implemented.110 The property value continues to increase as the gardens become more integrated into the neighborhood.111 The poorest neighbor- hoods, moreover, showed the greatest increase in property values.112 Studies have also found that rent increased and the rates of home ownership increased in areas surrounding a newly opened community garden.113

Studies concerning pets, moreover, find that apartment owners can charge higher rent for concessions such as allowing pets.114 Thus, accommodating pets has been shown to raise property values.

As of yet, no studies have been done on how backyard chickens in particular affect property values, but given that communities express little concern that other pets, such as dogs or cats, reduce property values, and given research showing that pets and urban agricultural practices can increase them, there is little reason to believe that allowing backyard chickens will negatively affect them.115

The two reports go on in similar veins. The ELI concludes with a model ordinance based on analysis of 100 cities that allow chickens, while the Jacksonville Planning Staff's negative, unbalanced assessment goes on conclude that the proposed changes would be contrary to the comprehensive plan. For instance, there doesn't seem to be much mention of the aspect of Objective 2.2 that calls for "re-emergence of diverse urban neighborhoods."

Bear in mind the Jacksonville Planning Staff report appears to have no citations, no references, and no supporting materials, while the ELI report has 463 citations. And other municipal planners have reached conclusions that differ significantly from Jacksonville. Check out the findings prepared by Springfield Missouri's planner. And if backyard hens were as debilitating and threatening to neighborhoods as the Jacksonville Planning Staff would have you believe: 

• What does that say about Manatee, Hernando, Pinellas, and Orange counties, (not to mention the cities of Tampa and Sarasota) all of which approved backyard hens in the last three years??

• And why, in 2010, would Seattle have voted to INCREASE the number of chickens people could have in the city from three to eight?

• And if Jacksonville's lots are too small, how do we explain the fact that Jacksonville is one of only six of the 25 largest US cities to prohibit backyard hens? The other 19, including New York and San Francisco, allow chickens. 

So what do you think? Does the Jacksonville Planning document reflect the best available data and analysis? Or is it burdened with unsubstantiated speculation that should not be used to evaluate the proposed ordinance?


Bouvier, Jaime M., Illegal Fowl: A Survey of Municipal Laws Relating to Backyard Poultry and a Model Ordinance for Regulating City Chickens (July 27, 2012). 42 Environmental Law Reporter 10888 (Sept. 2012). Available at SSRN:

"A survey of municipal ordinances in the top 100 most populous cities in the United States that concern keeping and raising chickens offers lessons that may be applied to designing a model ordinance. This survey reveals that chickens are, perhaps surprisingly, legal in the vast majority of large cities. The survey also identifies regulatory norms and some effective and less effective ways to regulate the keeping of chickens. A proposed model ordinance, based on the background information and survey results, could be adopted by a city or easily modified to fit a city’s unique needs."

Monday, July 22, 2013

CLUCK's News: Tampa OKs Chickens, plus news from Gainesville, Indian River County, and Madeira Beach

TBO summed it up in six words: Chickens Now Legal in Tampa Backyards. The Tampa City Commision voted 5-2 to allow hens (one bird per 1,000 square feet of lot) in the City. Part of the action was redefining chickens from "livestock" to "pets".

According to the Gainesville Sun, some Gainesville residents are lobbying to increase the number of backyard hens from only two to between four and six. A feed store owner estimates there are between 500 and 1,000 chicken keepers in Gainesville. 

TCPalm is reporting that the urban chicken movement is "sweeping" Indian River County. Three hens can be kept on residential properties in the unincorporated county. But cities such as Vero Beach prohibit "livestock and fowl" - reflecting old stereotypes about the pets that are less problematic and more productive than more common pets.

FInally, Madeira Beach's Church by the Sea is a diverse denominational house of worship that has been attracting visitors for what some believe are the wrong reason. Although the church was built in 1944, it took an insightful photographer to re-envision the steeple as a chicken. Once posted on the internet, the image drew the curious to see for themselves.
Photo by the Queen's Jester

Sunday, July 21, 2013

CLUCK asks: Do Backyard Hens or Coops Affect Real Estate Values?

"I won't be able to sell my house!" "Is the government going to pay me for the reduction in value?" These are the plaintive arguments we hear when local governments consider relaxing chicken ordinances - the fear that chickens negatively affect property values. And we hear it from some realtors.

I'm not sure I would say realtors are skittish, but they all probably have a story about a seemingly minor detail costing them thousands of dollars of commission fees when a hot prospect discovers what they think is a fatal flaw.
Photo from Center for Biological Diversity (not a New Jersey deer). 

True Story: My father was an experienced salesman who worked in Manhattan. One summer he thought he would try his hand at real estate after he came home from work. So one evening he was showing an urban couple a new home in a subdivision carved out of former New Jersey farmland. The couple was clearly interested and my observant father, hoping to seal the deal, drew their attention to a magnificent buck standing bathed in the setting rays at the edge of the woods. The woman froze, turned to her husband and demanded to be taken back to the city immediately, opining that she had no intention of living where there were wild animals. The sight of the animal that so thrilled my father, terrified the woman -- so you never know. Probably some people immediately walk out of homes with spas or granite counters.

Consequently, I'm sure that somewhere in the US a modest coop in a neighbor's yard has made a deal head south. There are alektorophobes out there. But that's a far cry from the inevitable allegations that allowing backyard hens will "obviously" depress property values. What depresses property values is the behavior of  irresponsible neighbors that color outside the lines of the neighborhood norms or standards -- and people don't need chickens to do that. There is no dormant irresponsible neighbor gene that only gets expressed when chickens enter the picture. Jerks will be jerks with or without chickens. 

A prominent realtor here in Sarasota told me that if your neighbor paints their house pink or has three lawn ornaments in their front yard, that will affect your ability to get your price more than a few hens in your backyard. For people who don't want to take that risk there are mandatory Residential Community Associations (RCAs) that uses codes, covenants, and other restrictions to enforce standards.

The rest of us live in neighborhoods with no neighborhood associations or voluntary associations that lack the power to enforce. These neighborhoods rely on municipal codes to set limits on what is acceptable so you run the risk of having a neighbor with a pink house, or three lawn ornaments. (You also have a lot more latitude to do what you want on your property.)

As far as CLUCK knows, no one has produced any data that suggests backyard hens lower property values. But there does seems to be some indirect evidence that coops are either neutral or potential assets. One real estate brokerage (Redfin) has named "the top five chicken cities" based on homes recently listed in MLS that mention coops as a feature. These cities are not Camden New Jersey or Detroit Michigan, but places people want to move to and live:

Portland: This graphic may say it all:
This wikipedia graphic shows Portland has a strong housing market
in spite of (because of?) being the most chicken friendly city.
California cities in the top five are Ventura, San Diego, and Sacramento. Seattle rounds out the list.

Some might say advertising a coop is simply attempting to make a virtue out of a necessity, but if coops were clearly deal-killers, they would not be mentioned (or owners would get rid of them before putting the property on the market). And if chickens poisoned the real estate market, would 19 of the 25 largest cities in the US allow backyard hens?

Not only does Redfin identify chicken-friendly cities, they post listings for properties that feature coops. Last time I checked, there were 75 properties FEATURING chicken coops (with photos). Check it out. 

An enterprising researcher, Anna Altic, looked at a 2010 Forbes article profiling the top ten housing markets appreciating in value and found nine allowed chickens. Then she looked at the ten sickest housing markets. Guess what? Only three allowed chickens. Does that prove anything? No, but it suggests chickens need not be a drag on a housing market and than banning chickens is not a key to a strong market. Read her article here.

So what are the top four reasons backyard hens or coops appear to be neutral or assets when selling a home?

1) Some MLS properties are now FEATURING chicken coops. - You don't advertise a problem.

2) Cities with strong real estate markets are chicken-friendly. And places young people want to move are chicken friendly. See also the data in Can Backyard Chickens Make Sarasota Hip?

3) The vast majority of large/major US cities allow backyard hens. If they were deal-killers, this number would not be so high. (This urban reality also punches a gigantic hole in the "farm animal" or "livestock" argument).

4) No one seems to have produced any data (that's different than a random anecdote or supposition) that backyard hens or coops by themselves depress real estate values.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Colbert Comments on Confining California Chicken Cages

One factor driving the resurgence in backyard chickens has been growing awareness of the inhumane conditions that layer hens are subjected to in large commercial layer operations in what are called battery cages.

In 2008, California voters passed Proposition 2, the Prevention of Farm Cruelty Act, requiring, among other things, that calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs be confined only in way that allow these animals to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely. 

Stephen Colbert contemplates 200 square inch cage. 
Egg producers were given until January 1, 2015 to come into compliance. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

(ABC) Annotated Bibliography of Chicken Legalization Reference Material

Here are several documents you need to get hold of and read if you are trying to legalize chickens in your community. These are NOT how to raise or take care of chicken documents, but rather material related to legalizing backyard hens. 

There are three basic types of documents: synoptic reviews of chicken communities and their ordinances, persuasive case statements, and strategic advice. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

CLUCK News: Chickens in Orlando, Tampa, Venice!

Three years ago no one probably thought the City of Sarasota, Hernando County, Pinellas County, Holmes Beach, and Manatee County would vote to allow backyard hens. They did and it looks like chickens aren't done. Check out recent developments:

Orange County and Orlando: Move over mouse, the chickens are coming. Orange County is looking at a three hen ordinance that may be approved July 2nd. 

And after Orlando started with a three hen pilot program involving 25 households, in April they tripled the number of pilot households and bumped the number of birds up to 4. It seems unlikely these changes would have happened if the original program was going astray.

And, that's not all. According to the Orlando Sentinel:

"Maitland is hatching its own ordinance, and Lake County and Winter Park are exploring the idea."

Tampa: After two years of consideration, a measure relaxing chicken rules in Tampa has passed the City Council. The final vote is July 18, but with only two (of seven) City Council members voting against, the change is believed to have a strong chance of passing. Provisions inlcude: hens only, one bird per 1,000 square feet of land, coop no more than 125 square feet and no more than 6 feet high. They will have to be confined to the owner's property by a fence or wall. The Council wisely directed staff to review the City's Wildlife Sanctuary laws to make sure they don't complicate enforcement.

Venice: It turns that what CLUCK has long claimed is true: Chickens are not illegal in the City of Venice. They cannot be "at large" (ranging off the owners property) and are no doubt subject to standard nuisance laws that would make roosters (noise) and large numbers violations, but apparently discreet hen harborers need not fear the man in Venice. 

Sec. 10-4. - Domestic fowl running at large.permanent link to this piece of content
It shall be unlawful for any person to allow chickens and other domestic fowl to run or be at large within the city. The term "chickens and other domestic fowl," as used in this section, shall be construed to mean any chicken, goose, turkey, guinea hen, duck, peafowl or other domestic or domesticated fowl.
(Code 1982, § 5-4)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Manatee County Approves Backyard Hens!

After a long campaign led by Manatee CLUCK, the Manatee County Commission voted on June 4th to allow single family homeowners in the unincorporated county to have up to four backyard hens.
Detail of artwork by Old Miakka artist, Jean Blackburn, which may be seen at Bradenton Riverwalk
The vote was 4-2 with Commissioners Chappie, Gallen, Bustle and Whitmore voting for Whitmore's motion. Commissioners Benac and Baugh voted against. Commissioner Benac conceded chickens could be pets, but voiced concerns about the impact on neighborhoods. Her position evolved more than Commissioner DiSabatino who seemed stuck on her position that chickens can only be farm animals. 

Commissioner DiSabatino had a conflicting appointment, but prior to leaving reported she would have voted against the motion -- shattering any illusion that she was open-minded since her announcement preceded the public testimony.

There was some confusion regarding the draft ordinance because staff had submitted CLUCK's preferred limit of 12 chickens and the Board seemed intent on voting on staff's preferred alternative, which was four hens. The motion that passed also increased the side setback from 20 to 25 feet. 

Much credit is due Rob Kluson who combined professional expertise and volunteer dedication to shepherd the process and keep Manatee CLUCK chicken advocates motivated for several years.

Manatee County joins Hernando and Pinellas counties and the City of Sarasota as governments that have recently voted to relax regulations on keeping backyard hens. 

The ordinance wording may be found by clicking on this highlighted text

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

North Port: One Vote Short

On Monday May 13th, 2013, the North Port City Commission fell one vote shy of getting ahead of the pet chicken phenomenon, a vote they may come to regret. With Commissioner Tom Jones still not back on the dais, measures need a 75% (3-1) approval rating to pass instead of the usual 60% (3-2). As a result the group deadlocked 2-2 and the measure failed when Commissioner Blucher switched his vote from the first reading. 

Commissioner Blucher started the questioning inquiring if the chickens could just be wandering free-range when not in the coop. Commissioner Cook wanted to know if people who wanted chickens would have the obtain permission from the owners of undeveloped neighboring lots. 

Citizens speaking in opposition seemed to be using chickens as proxies for other complaints they have with the City or their neighbors. One gentleman complained about four or five families living on one house. Entertaining and erratic former Commissioner Buddy Hughes managed to talk about a shopping center, cholesterol, and her cats. She said she "looked it up on the internet" and found chickens were "noisy, smelly and poop all over".

Several citizens spoke in favor and several mentioned the wild birds and other animals found in their yards that should pose a well-contamination risk comparable to the one hypothesized by Commissioner Cook. They also hit on the basic fairness theme and their right to keep animals so long as they weren't a nuisance. Angela Funes deserves lots of credit for stepping up and working to organize supporters by creating the NP City Chickens Facebook page.

Once they closed the public hearing it became evident the measure was in trouble, even though staff had delivered what the Commissioners had asked for: a requirement to have neighbor permission without burdening permitting staff. 

Commissioner Cook had a long list of complaints and concerns starting with her lingering disappointment that staff never took time to address the theoretical concern that chicken droppings could somehow contaminate wells. She wanted all neighbors to have to give permission, questioned compost, and alluded to some chicken problem in China. And then, apparently in a effort to show she was reasonable, suggested one chicken might be okay as pet and observed that she would be more likely to consider this if the gated communities wanted chickens -- which is roughly comparable to arguing that prayers should become a regular part of the school-day when atheists demand it. She finished by expressing concern that this "might open the door to zoning issues". 

Chicken owner and supporter Commissioner DiFranco spoke next, lamenting the fact that people are not taking care of their animals. She mentioned overbreeding and people walking away from their pets. She pointed out that even if North Port had as many code enforcement staff as Sarasota, the far larger territory complicated matters and made it more important that people police themselves. 

Commissioner Blucher observed that he had been non-committal to start with, but that he had heard from a lot of people since the first reading and had concluded "the majority do not want" chickens, without commenting on whether American governments exist to impose the preferences of the majority or protect the rights of the minority. He expressed concerns about enforcement and raised, for the first time, the issue of flies*. It was obvious he was going to switch his vote.

Mayor Yates, reading her peers, stated that 34 people had contacted the commission in support and only a handful opposed. She stated it was a private property rights issue and pointed out that banning chickens wasn't going to solve other animal issues in the City. She said it was unfortunate and sad that the measure was going down and repeated her plea to give it a try. But when the board flashed it was 2-2. 


CLUCK's North Port chicken prediction: Chicken complaints in North Port will increase, possibly dramatically. There are two reasons for this: first, all the media coverage and outcome (chickens are illegal) will drive a wave of complaints about pre-existing chickens (that previously may have been thought to be okay) and 2) people who wanted to color inside the lines and supported a reasonable ordinance will simply give up on their government and just get chickens anyway. For people like Commissioner Cook and former Commissioner Hughes, this will elicit a "see, I told you so" response. 

The North Port chicken community will continue to grow and organize (the Facebook page has 51 "likes" as of this posting) and eventually, possibly when a new Commission is seated, the Commissioners will realize it makes more sense to provide reasonable accommodations for backyard hens so that code enforcement can focus on real problems like animal abandonment, pet hoarding, animal abuse, and cockfighting. 



CLUCK wishes Commissioner Blucher had raised the fly issue sooner, since chicken waste can attract flies. Here is one chicken keepers experience:

I go for weeks or months with no noticeable fly problem. That convinced me my hens weren't creating a problem because their numbers are constant. Then all of a sudden there will be droves. At first I thought it was the weather - maybe drought suppressed flies. But eventually I realized my chickens were not creating the fly problem - they were the victims. 

Here's what I've figured out is going on: Some one throws out a lot of chicken carcasses from a barbecue, or they gut their fish when they get home, and they drag the garbage out to the curb where attracts flies that lay eggs. Or a raccoon or opossum gets hit by a car and crawls off to die. Soon it is crawling with hundreds, if not thousands, of maggots that turn into hundreds or thousands of flies. Those flies hatch out and need to find a place to lay their eggs. 

Here's where my chickens come in. The flies bred elsewhere show up in my yard, only to find tiny quarter-sized chicken droppings. Any port in a storm. So I end up doing the fly-trapping -- putting a stop to a fly problem generated by my neighbors or road-kill. Instead of chicken owners CREATING a neighborhood fly problem, they are the people motivated and equipped to STOP a neighborhood fly problem. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

CLUCK asks: Are Chickens Farm Animals or Pets?

At commission meeting after commission meeting (most recently in Manatee County from Commissioners DiSabatino and Benac) we keep hearing that chickens are farm animals and, therefore, cannot be pets. But it's not complicated, so we made up the following graphic summary.

When people talk about "farm animals" they are frequently flashing back to picture books they enjoyed as children in the last century. As kids we learned about picturesque farms as repositories of the diverse pantheon of domestic animals. On the farm the pig said oink, the ducks said quack, the cows said moo, and the rooster said cock-a-doodle-do. In those days farm animals were hard working -- cats lived outside and were "mousers", dogs helped with herding, security, or hunting.

Grandfather's Farm, illustrated by Rojankovsky

The farm animals shown in this book include horses, cows, rabbits
ducks, sheep, geese, pigs, turkeys, goats, chickens as well as DOGS and CATS!

But these complex compendiums of animal husbandry are now primarily historic nostalgia. Instead of diverse crops and livestock, most "farming" is now specialized with people focusing on particular species. Pigs are raised in confined animal feeding operations, milk cows on dairies, and chickens are raised by the thousands in battery cages for eggs (see top left picture above) or in long broiler houses.

Meanwhile as farming changed, our relationships with the so called "farm animals" started shifting. Once odor-supressing kitty litter was invented, cats were welcomed indoors. Mousing became secondary to companionship. Dogs that had lived in kennels or chained to dog houses came inside. Pot-bellied pigs were welcomed not as bacon on four feet but as pets.

A Google search for the compound term "pet chicken" brings up over 400,000 results. To see some pet chickens, click here.

Although the number of layer and broiler chickens being raised commercially dwarfs the number of backyard pet chickens, CLUCK suspects that number of people that own pet chickens probably outnumbers the number of chicken producers.

It is worth observing that  Susan OrleanMartha StewartAlice Walker, Julia RobertsPaula Deen and Tori Spelling are not farmers, agriculturalists or commercial egg producers. And it is not just women that have pet chickens-- add to the list Sam Neil, Teddy Roosevelt, John Cleese, William H. Macy, and Robert E. Lee. These are people (with the exception of Robert E. Lee who had to travel under challenging conditions) who could have any pet they want, or even a Michael Jackson style mini-zoo. They chose chickens.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

North Port One Vote Away From Legalizing Chickens

The North Port City Commission, minus Commissioner Tom Jones, met on Earth Day (April 22nd, 2013) and the agenda included the first reading of a proposed ordinance that would allow backyard chickens in single family residential areas.

After fourteen open-to-the-public comments (that included testimony from four former City Commissioners!), the commission took up Ordinance 1013-03. Staff introduced the measure pointing out that it differed from the City of Sarasota approach by allowing more chickens (six instead of four) and restricting chickens in North Port to single family residential areas while Sarasota allowed chickens in "all residential areas".1

Mayor Yates, a known supporter, started the conversation asking where the inspections and permits came from since they were not in the City of Sarasota ordinance. The answer was that they were recommended by the Planning and Zoning Advisory Board. 2

The Mayor wanted to make sure that the prohibition on egg sales did not apply City-wide where if could affect Farmer's Markets. 

Commissioner Blucher questioned six, not four and wondered if the permitting would necessitate adding staff.

Commissioner Cook seemed disappointed in staff responses to PZAB concerns.

Commissioner DiFranco asked about the current staffing levels of code enforcement and animal services.

Mayor Yates pointed out that no permit was needed in Sarasota and people could have dog houses, bird cages, potbellied pigs, and parrots in North Port without getting a permit. Commissioner Blucher countered that a there was no North Port permit for a goat either (because goats are illegal). 

The Commission then took testimony from the public, which ran about three to one in favor of chickens.   Those arguing in opposition tended to use two lines of argument, enforcement challenges and property rights, although there was one individual who cited bird flu in China as a reason not to act. The majority of those speaking in opposition were adamant that chickens are "farm animals" and not pets.3  Planning Commissioner Maturo earned a rebuke from the Mayor when he rudely began to attack the testimony of an earlier speaker. 

Former Commissioner and current PZAB member Fred Tower testified that he was neither for nor against, but that he had talked to a relative in Oshkosh and there all three neighbors had to give approval.

At the close of public testimony, Mayor Yates passed the gavel to Commissioner Blucher and added language prohibiting sale of eggs "at a residence". She argued that "all had been said" and the City should give it a try because it was working well in Sarasota. 

Commissioner DiFranco offered a balanced response, noting that chickens are a lot of responsibility and that she feared chickens would be abandoned after the novelty wore off. She was concerned about enforcement and stated she couldn't support six.

Commissioner Cook revealed she had a chicken as a child, but that not all chickens were docile. She went back to the list of PZAB concerns that she felt had not be adequately addressed by staff. 

Commissioner Blucher stated that he had problems with this proposal from day one. He enumerated a number of concerns including staff needed to enforce, six chickens being too many, and the fact that North Port, unlike the City of Sarasota, already had an area (the Estates) that allowed chickens. But he tempered his comments with an observation that he wasn't worried about noise and thought it would be a good thing for kids. 

Since Commissioner Jones was absent, passage would require 75% of those present to vote in favor (more than the usual 60%) and it was pretty clear six chickens weren't going anywhere. 

Mayor Yates tried to amend to four chickens, but there was a parliamentary question. That got sorted out yielding an amendment to reduce the number from 6 to 4 and requiring approval from neighbors. Commissioner Cook stated she was still not on board, citing the cost to regulate and the possibility that chicken droppings could contaminate wells. Staff was empowered to iron out details prior to the second reading on May 13th at 1:00 pm and both the amendment and main motion passed three to one with Commissioner Cook voting Nay.

That turned out not to be true. The City of Sarasota clearly states chickens are "accessory to a residential single-family structure".

2 Actually a PZAB member at the April 4th meeting asked staff if permits would be required, and a staff member answered in the affirmative. That was the start of permitting being added.

3 That argument suffered a serious blow later in the Board discussion when Commissioner DiFranco revealed that she owned a "pet chicken". 

Friday, April 19, 2013

CLUCK Responds to North Port Chicken Concerns

Based on Testimony and Questions at the April 5th Planning and Zoning Advisory Board meeting City Staff identified eight concerns raised by the PZAB. Listed below are those concerns and some preliminary CLUCK responses along with selected excerpts from Illegal Fowl: A Survey of Municipal Laws Relating to Backyard Poultry and a Model Ordinance for Regulating City Chickens, (a 33 page objective review of chicken keeping in the top 100 most populous cities in the United States) by Jaime Bouvier, who is Visiting Legal Writing Professor, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law Copyright © 2012 Environmental Law Institute®, Washington, DC.

CLUCK presents this analysis in advance of the City of North Port hearing that will take place at 6:00 pm. on Monday April 22nd. 

1) Who will regulate cage specifications? Coop or cage specifications in the City of Sarasota are, for the most part, performance-based. While there are specific square foot requirements, other requirements can be solved by the owner. For instance, the coops must be movable, but it does not specify if that has to be using wheels, skids, or lifting. See 5. Coop Requirements below.

2) Is a permit required? Staff is anticipating (proposing?) that permits be issued through the building department. This is a major departure from the system in place in the City of Sarasota, which does not require a permit. At the January workshop, the direction to staff was to use the City of Sarasota ordinance as a model, so one has to ask where the permitting requirement originated? Adding a permitting requirement increases costs for both residents and the City. The City should consider allowing chickens and coops without the need for permits or licenses. See 9. Permit Requirements, below.

3) What about those neighbors that do not want to live next to chickens? This is an important question. It presumes that neighbors are entitled to some sort of veto power over their neighbor's activities. But this is America, where a man's (or woman's) home is his or her castle and we allow people to do what they want in pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Unless we choose to live in a community with strict HOA covenants, neighbors do NOT have the right to say what pets their neighbors have. The exceptions occur when one neighbor creates a nuisance. That should result in an enforcement action, whether the nuisance is barking or dangerous dogs, squawking parrots, or a crowing rooster.

4) What about property values? No information or testimony has been brought forward at any level that backyard hens decrease property values. In fact, a recent article documents the fact that chicken coops are being included in some real estate ads as amenities. One prominent Sarasota realtor said "If your neighbor has three lawn ornaments or paints their house pink, that will have more effect on the ability to sell your house than if they have backyard chickens." See "D" at the bottom, from a recent Environmental Law Review article.

5) What will be the impact on wells? The photo below shows chicken droppings in relation to US quarters. The idea that this amount of waste could affect potable water wells in neighborhoods with septic tanks is chilling because this is a trivial amount compared with the what enters the surficial aquifer via the septic systems, which treat far more human waste. We presume and hope potable wells in North Port are accessing a deeper aquifer that is isolated from septic tank effluent (as well as dog waste -- one Springer Spaniel produces as much waste as six chickens!)

Yellow triangle arrows point to chicken droppings - insignificant compared with dogs, which are allowed.

6) What is the cost to City to regulate? To properly answer this question data would need to be produced documenting the current level of effort (and cost) the City now expends reacting to chicken complaints. Code enforcement is already responding to roosters and other complaints. So the real question should be: Will chicken complaints increase, decrease, or stay the same after backyard hens are legalized? See 9. Permit Requirements below.

The experience in many communities is a decrease or no increase in complaints. CLUCK believes this results from two phenomena: 1) some current violations would be compliant if hens were allowed and, 2) people will attempt to come into compliance to ensure they will be able to keep their chickens. Right now there is no greater penalty for having a rooster or two dozen birds --establishing reasonable limits creates an incentive for people to abide by the law -- even if they are now lawbreakers. 

CLUCK believes that enforcement actions should be directed at real problems: animal abuse, animal hoarding, and cockfighting (and there is no cockfighting without loud roosters). 

Two years into allowing chickens in the City of Sarasota, all six candidates at a forum were asked if they were comfortable with the chicken ordinance. All six said they were. 

7) How many citizens really want this? CLUCK does not know how many citizens would be interested in having backyard chickens, but that really shouldn't be a determining factor. If it is reasonable, it should be allowed, even if only one family wants chickens. And if it is unreasonable it should be denied, even if a majority of citizens want chickens. Consider this: if the number is very small, then by definition it will have almost no effect on the community. 

8) Is there a minimum lot size? No, and neither is there in the City of Sarasota. Keep in mind 75% of the largest cities in the US allow hens, which argues that small lots need not be problematic. See Section 3 below.

5. Coop Requirements

Many cities regulate how the chicken coop should be built and maintained. There is a broad range in these regulations, and no two ordinances are alike . Some simply decree that it is unlawful for chickens to run at large, and thus implicitly mandate that the coop be constructed in a secure enough way so that chickens can’t easily escape . Some appear to look out for animal welfare by decreeing that chickens should be provided adequate food, water, and shelter in sanitary conditions . And, some appear to try to proactively head off any potential problems by regulating the dimensions of the coop, how it must be built, and exactly how often it must be cleaned. (more information follows in the original document).

9. Permits (discussion of model ordinance proposed by the author)

The model ordinance, following the ordinances of many other cities, does not require a permit, as long as the ordi- nance is followed . Because chickens are novel to many communities, city officials naturally want to closely monitor how well owners are maintaining their flocks . But, regulating through a permitting or licensing process, dedicating a city official to overseeing it, and maintaining the records that such a process will require appears to be an inefficient use of city resources . It is also expensive for owners to pay permitting fees on an annual basis and is a barrier to entry to keeping chickens to those with low or modest incomes . The fees that some cities charge, over $50 annually, effectively prohibit poorer people from owning chickens .
The permitting process, moreover, does not necessarily give the city more control . If the city prohibits hens unless its ordinance is followed, it can enforce its laws in the same way that it enforces its laws against errant dog, cat, or bird owners . Requiring a permit, thus, appears to provide an unnecessary, inefficient, and expensive layer to the process of legalizing hens .
The model ordinance does require a permit, however, if the chicken owner puts forth a proposal for why she should not have to comply with the city’s regulations—for instance if the owner wishes to keep more than the maxi- mum amount of hens, wishes to keep hens in a multi-family dwelling, wishes to keep hens on a parcel of land that is unconnected to a dwelling, or wishes to keep a rooster.

D. Property Values

Another common concern is that keeping backyard chick- ens will reduce surrounding property values .108 Several studies, however, have found that agricultural uses within the city actually increase property values .109 Community gardens increase neighboring property values by as much as 9.4% when the garden is first implemented .110 The property value continues to increase as the gardens become more integrated into the neighborhood .111 The poorest neighbor- hoods, moreover, showed the greatest increase in property values .112 Studies have also found that rent increased and the rates of home ownership increased in areas surround- ing a newly opened community garden .113

Studies concerning pets, moreover, find that apartment owners can charge higher rent for concessions such as allowing pets .114 Thus, accommodating pets has been shown to raise property values .

As of yet, no studies have been done on how backyard chickens in particular affect property values, but given that communities express little concern that other pets, such as dogs or cats, reduce property values, and given research showing that pets and urban agricultural practices can increase them, there is little reason to believe that allowing backyard chickens will negatively affect them .115

3. Lot Size Should Not Be Restricted (discussion of model ordinance proposed by the author)
The majority of cities do not require a specific lot size before a person can keep chickens. Lot size restrictions, moreover, often do little more than prohibit the majority of city residents from keeping hens. The concern that cities are mainly addressing through lot size, that of making sure that chickens are not located too close to neighbors, can better be addressed through setbacks .
For this reason, the model ordinance does not restrict through lot size . If a city has a wide variety of lot sizes, however, a city may wish to allow more hens for larger lot sizes . The city, for instance, can legislate a maximum number of chickens for lot sizes of 1⁄2 acre or below, and then increase the number of chickens for larger lot sizes. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sarasota CLUCK to supply eggs for Mattison's Farm to Fork Brunch

Sarasota CLUCK will be providing eggs for a special Suncoast Food Alliance farm-to-fork event at Mattison's City Grille.

This April 21st brunch promises to be the most unique meal of the Spring when they host this Locavore Brunch. This brunch will source local items from within 50 miles of the restaurant! And the featured item will be the egg. But not just any eggs, oh no, these eggs will be donated by Sarasota C.L.U.C.K. members. This way you can taste the difference in free-range (most organic) fresh eggs compared to what most people buy from the grocery store. 

Other items being featured will be Mote Marine caviar, Watercress Farms baby swiss chard and watercress, My Mother's Garden pork belly, Mitchell's Natural Produce snake radish, Jones Farm potatoes and Lake Meadows chicken. (All items are subject to change due to availability). And do we have a good price for you, $35 per person (plus tax and gratuity). Some proceeds from the event will be donated to Sarasota C.L.U.C.K. for educational purposes. Adult beverages will be available at noon. 

Reserve your seats by calling 941/330-0440.Sponsored by Mattison's City Grille, Suncoast Food Alliance, Sarasota C.L.U.C.K. and Slow Food Sarasota/Bradenton

Menu: Grits and Sausage - baby Swiss chard, poached egg, warm bacon vinaigrette; Salmon and Cream Cheese - smoked salmon mousse, peppered watercress, cream cheese, onion marmalade, bagel chip topped with Mote caviar; Main Street Bacon and Eggs - crispy pork belly, grilled asparagus, sunny-side up egg, smoked fingerling potatoes; Chicken and Waffles - waffle breaded crispy chicken breast topped with maple gravy.