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".