Thursday, January 10, 2013

North Port Chicken Alert: Monday Jan.14, 2013

Sometime on Monday morning January 14, 2013, the North Port City Commission will have a discussion regarding raising chickens in North Port. That discussion will start with a staff presentation and the City Planning Staff has assembled some interesting information (which you can access by clicking here).

Here are some noteworthy facts the staff prepared for the Commissioner's consideration:

FROM EXHIBIT 1. Article IX Section 53-122 prohibits keeping of "farm animals, exotic animals, livestock and poultry or any animal normally found in the wild" in RSF (Residential Single Family) Zones.  So that's the reason the discussion is taking place.

But taken literally, this provision would seem to prohibit  people from having mosquito-eating Gambusia fish (which are normally found in the wild) and keep kids from having an anole or native turtle as a pet. 

FROM EXHIBIT 2. Section 55-25 establishes that In the AG Agricultural District one can have both domestic pets and "poultry husbandry". This is significant because it establishes North Port does not necessarily view chickens as a threat to human health or domestic tranquility. 

EXHIBIT 3. Is a comparison of chicken regulations in nearby counties and cities. Unincorporated Sarasota County requires lots five acres or greater to keep chickens. Charlotte and Manatee allow chickens in some zoning categories as small as one acre. Venice has no regulations and the City of Sarasota allows four hens in residential single family areas.  There is no minimum lot size in the City, although there are setbacks.

EXHIBIT 4. comes from Allegheny County, Pennsylvania and is a mildly-alarming, mostly-educational document that details potential health risks associated with backyard chickens. On the subject of bird flu, it states bird flu is a "theoretical public health hazard" and that risk of infections in the US is "extremely low".

On the subject of Salmonella, the document states that "small children, elderly persons and those with weakened immune systems" are most at risk, but that the "hazards could be mitigated by avoiding contact with poultry feces, carefully washing hands with soap and water after handling the birds, avoiding hand-to-mouth contact while working with birds and education about food safety."

One might assume that after these warnings that Allegheny County might be down on chickens and beyond that you might wonder why someone would pick Allegheny County of all the 3,033 counties in the US as a source of information about chickens? CLUCK is not sure.

We do know Pittsburgh lies in Allegheny County  and is the 27th largest urban area in the country. Its a pretty urban place (5,636 people per square mile), especially compared with North Port, which Wikipedia thinks has a population density around 300 per square mile. So it may come as surprise that Pittsburgh, just like 19 of the 25 largest cities in the US allows backyard chickens. Read all about chickens in Pittsburgh here.

Then's there's a nice well-researched and balanced PowerPoint PRESENTATION from Springfield Missouri. One slide pointed out that there are a variety of common legal neighborhood practices that support vermin. Ones that were cited include birdfeeders, pet food, gardens, fish ponds, and trash.

That's followed by an email from a Sarasota County Extension Agent that states that "the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has determined that chickens are " no more likely for Salmonella exposure to humans than other pets when good hygiene practices are used." The citation for that source is Chuck Henry, who is now Director of the Sarasota County Health Department.

That is followed by a CHICKEN ORDINANCE SURVEY. It involved interviewing staff from more than 20 cities. Some highlights include:

85% said chickens on the loose were not a problem.
More than half the cities reported no (Zero) violations
More than half of the cities reported 0-2 complaints
17% reported amendments that relaxed restrictions
71% said the ordinance allowing chickens had been positive - the rest were neutral, none negative

That is followed by four examples of ordinances from Coupeville WA, S. Miami FL, City of Sarasota, and Gulfport FL

It is hard to read all this material without drawing several conclusions:

• Chickens can't be too much of a threat or problem if they are already allowed in parts of North Port.

• There are a lot of places far more urban than North Port that allow backyard chickens.

• While there are some diseases associated with chickens they are either less problematic or no more problematic than more common pets and health concerns can be managed with common-sense procedures.

• The data assembled by staff suggest cities that relaxed chicken restrictions find the change was either positive or neutral.

So, it is surprising the STAFF SUMMARY SHEET actually recommends maintaining the current regulations!

This recommendation appears to be based on three concerns:

DISEASE The staff summary incorrectly reports that "chickens . . . frequently carry. . . bird flu". They provide no citation for this claim while Exhibit 4 directly contradicts that claim. Please bear in mind that, according to the CDC, dogs and cats pose far greater health threats to owners than chickens. (See  Backyard Chicken Disease Risk in Perspective). And the North Port's Animal Control regulations have extensive sections on rabies and vicious animals, neither of which would apply to backyard hens. Finally, no matter how dedicated, planning staff are not public health experts. Commenting on disease risk here should have been the purview of the Sarasota Health Department, not somewhere in Pennsylvania. 

PREDATORS AND RODENTS This argument (like the one above) conveniently ignores the fact that North Port already allows chickens. The report provides no explanation why all this alleged disease and predators can be tolerated in some parts of the city but not others. 

The fact is that allowing birdfeeders, outdoor pet feeding, vegetable gardens, fruit trees, fish ponds, and composting is already functionally supporting predators and vermin. Unless these practices are made illegal, fussing about a few hens is disingenuous. Sensible ordinances require feed be kept in vermin-proof containers as well as secure coops.

LOT SIZE The report maintains that residential zoning districts in the city do not provide appropriate space for chickens without explaining how Sarasota (3,540 residents per square mile) and Gulfport (3,200 residents per square mile) can make it work (not to mention those 19 major cities that allow chickens). 

The discussion is the third item on the agenda for the meeting at starts at 9:00 am on MONDAY, JANUARY 14, 2013 ROOM 244, 2ND FLOOR 4970 CITY HALL BOULEVARD NORTH PORT, FLORIDA 3428

Speakers will be allowed three minutes each.

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