Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sarasota County Commission Re-Engages on Backyard Hens

Nov 18th, 2014  Sarasota County Commission Re-Engages on Backyard Hens

Today four Sarasota County residents addressed the new County Commission regarding backyard hens and appeared to shift the Board's position on the issue. 

In the morning, Tyler Korman explained his family's time-sensitive situation with a Special Magistrate and in the process introduced an aspect of urgency as well as highlighting the irony of his hens serving an important public health goal of the county while being in violation of county zoning codes.  He was followed by longtime CLUCK supporter, Jennifer Cortez, who explained how a few hens would fit in with her sustainable approach to her yard. 

Prior to lunch the new Commission reviewed a prior Board's previous action on this matter (see letter below). Commissioners Hines, Robinson, and Mason remembered the challenge to CLUCK to secure prior approval ("buy-in") from a wide variety of non-govenmental entities and seemed to want to return to that position.

Backyard hen supporters were flabbergasted two years ago when a group of parents asked the County Commission why their families couldn’t have backyard hens and, instead of answering the question, the Commission directed CLUCK to solicit approval in advance for keeping backyard hens. There were two problems with their direction, aside from not answering the citizens’ questions.

In more than three decades of watching our County Commission, I’ve never seen the commission require a group seeking to initiate a change to secure permission from a wide variety of non-governmental organizations prior to even considering that change.

Not only would their challenge require a superhuman effort, but it was destined to fail for a very simple reason: no group would sign a blank check and a chicken proposal without specifics would constitute a blank check.

How many chickens are we talking about? What kind of setbacks? Basic questions such as these could not be answered because there is no proposed ordinance at this point.

And it would pointless for CLUCK to propose specific language in the absence of 1) any direction from the Board regarding what they might find acceptable and 2) language development and review by County Planning and legal staff to make sure the form and content of the proposal met county standards.


Today, and partially in response to Commissioner Caragiulo’s questioning, the Board’s position seemed to shift a little from requiring prior blank check approval from numerous non-governmental entities to wondering if there was sufficient public interest to warrant committing county resources to exploring a possible change in the zoning code.


Commissioner Mason: "I'd like to see just how much interest there is out there before asking staff to look into this further."

Commissioner Robinson: ". . . we got an email (shown below) of an action we took asking CLUCK to start educating the homeowners associations, neighborhood association and community organizations and to obtain community support and then to come back to us with that community support."

Commissioner Caragiulo: ". . .we don't want to put a burden of basically get everyone to agree to a point and then bring it back to us."   "I think it's a worthwhile discussion certainly. -- Frankly you do have gauge if there's any interest."

Commissioner Hines: "Before we change our zoning code, I think we ask is there a public interest in doing this beyond, you know,  five, ten, twenty people -- is there a public interest to do this?     And, so, rather than us trying to go out and explore that public interest. . ."  "We asked the folks to go out and maybe get some petitions signed or some information -- not necessarily bring in a bus of two hundred people (interruption)  and public comments to do it and to see if there's interest and that hasn't occurred . . "    "Maybe the timing is right, but if there's only twenty or thirty people in the county that wants this. . . that's what we've not heard". 

Commissioner Caragiulo: "Input is critical, I just wanted to make sure, you know what the standard was."

Commissioner Maio did not comment during the discussion.  
The four commissioner's questions were partially answered after lunch when Ann McAvoy submitted eight copies of her petition with 270 county signatures and 68 thoughtful text comments from County residents. She was followed by Todd Logan, who moved back to Osprey (from Anchorage!) and was dismayed to find he could not keep chickens. 

CLUCK has been patient and Sarasota citizens have demonstrated that a significant number want the county to consider changing the rules. While we have waited, both Manatee and Pinellas Counties have legalized backyard hens.

So the first step is, and always has been, for the County Commission to vote to direct staff to work with CLUCK and other backyard chicken advocates to draft a strategy for single family residences to have backyard hens. They may want to use the City of Sarasota’s ordinance as a starting point, but that’s up to them. Then that draft language would move through public hearings with the Planning Commission and the County Commission. Once there is a draft approach, CLUCK will undertake an effort to educate the public regarding the proposed provisions, but in the absence of a specific proposal, talking in generalizations about chickens is a futile effort. 


From: Christine Robinson
Sent: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 9:54 PM
To: Jono Miller; Carolyn Mason; Nora Patterson; Joseph Barbetta; Jon Thaxton
Cc: Randall Reid; Robert Kluson; Evangeline Linkous; Laney Poire
Subject: RE: chickens


On behalf of the Commission, thank you for your e-mail and for your dialogue on this issue.    Community buy-in is an important aspect of a change like this.  The majority of the Commission would like to see CLUCK educate the HOAs, Neighborhood Associations, and Civic Associations on this issue and also get their buy-in before the county spends time and money to initiate a change in zoning rules.  Some felt it would be difficult to get that through county-held neighborhood workshops and that CLUCK should make these efforts before we start down that path.  

Personally, I thought your editorial was a good conversation piece that can be distributed to these groups to start the discussions.  I also look forward to listening to the community dialogue on this topic absent initial government involvement.      

Thank you for your efforts and for your approach to this issue.  We appreciated each of the speakers and their stories.

Best Regards,


Christine Robinson
Sarasota County Commission Chair
Sarasota County Government
1660 Ringling Blvd
Sarasota, Florida 34236
Assisted by Robin Bayus

The editorial Commissioner Robinson referred to can be found here. 

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