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."