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 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?