Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Citizens Guide to Where Chickens May be Kept in Sarasota County

Can I legally keep chickens in Sarasota County?

 Do Some Research
In order to find out what chicken rules apply to you in Sarasota County, you need to know several things: whether you live in a city or the unincorporated county, and what zoning district are you in. To find out go to the Sarasota Property Appraiser’s website and enter the street address or property owners name. Then click on SEARCH at the bottom of the form. You’ll see a list on the right that describes various aspects of your property, including LAND AREA (area of your lot in square feet) MUNICIPALITY (if you live in a City with its own, separate rules) and ZONING.

 Do you Live in One of Four Cities?
If the MUNICIPALITY says City of Sarasota, North Port, or Venice, you can have chickens pursuant to their rules. Venice is actually silent on the subject, but does say it "is unlawful for any person to allow chickens . . . or other domestic fowl to run at large within the city."  So be considerate -- no roosters and respect your neighbors. If it says Town of Longboat Key, the answer is no backyard chickens If it says Sarasota County you will be governed by Sarasota County rules. Make a note of your zoning code.

                       Do you Live in a Mandatory Homeowner Association Neighborhood?
 Before going further, figure out if you live in community with a mandatory homeowners association (HOA). These are the places that have mandatory annual fees and which can put a lien on your house if you don’t mow your lawn or follow other rules you agreed to. The rules in these mandatory HOA’s take precedence over the County rules and you are governed by them and you need to consult those rules. If you live in a traditional neighborhood with no neighborhood association or a voluntary one, the County or City rules will apply.

 Unincorporated Sarasota County Zones RSF, RE-2, RE-3, and RC 
If your zoning code is any of the following: RSF, RE-2, RE-3, and RC you will now be allowed to have up to four hens. Go forward to the section summarizing the rules that apply. If you are in OUA or OUR you can have more. 

County OUE Zoning
If your property is zoned OUE, things are a little trickier. You need to determine your neighbor’s zoning. Back on the Property Appraiser’s website, click on MAP to see your property’s dimensions and your adjoining lots. As you click on surrounding lots a box will come up with some info, click on the Property Detail Page to see what your neighbors’ zoning is and make a note.

If you have an OUE parcel five acres or greater, then there is no limit on the number of chickens and you have a fifty foot setback for the coop. (To convert your parcel’s area in square feet to acres, divide by 43,560) If your OUE parcel is less than five acres and you are adjoining other OUE properties, then you have a fifty foot setback for the coop. If any adjoining properties are residential (RE, RSF, RH, RMH) then for those parcels you have a hundred foot setback for the coop and the birds when they are out of the coop. You only have to meet the greater setbacks adjacent to RE, RSF, RH, and RMH zoned properties. So if your side neighbors are OUE, use the 50 setback, but if your back neighbor/s is/are RE, RSF, RH, or RMH the coop and hens will have to be 100’ back.

So if you are zoned OUE and your side neighbors are also OUE (and assuming you have a rectangular parcel and your coop is no more than 6 feet wide), any lot wider than 106’ will work. If your have back neighbors zoned RE, RSF, RH, or RMH, the coop and chickens will have to be set back 100’ to be legal.
 More on OUE and RE1
The Sarasota County Zoning Administrator wrote to say: “What we are essentially trying to do is say if you are OUE, RE1, you are not restricted in the number of chickens that you can have.

Small Non-conforming OUE Lots
If you have a nonconforming OUE lot less than one acre in size, then the verbiage in 5.3.1.a.8 (see Ordinance 2016-044) kicks in and you will be treated as any other nonconforming lot, which means you would conform to the closest zoning district similar in use which will be an RSF lot.


The keeping of chickens is allowed if the following standards are met:

1.   No more than four (4) chickens may be kept, with roosters prohibited;

2. No person shall slaughter any chickens;

3. The chickens shall be provided with a movable covered enclosure (i.e. "hen house/coop") and must be kept in the covered enclosure or a fenced enclosure at all times. Chickens must be secured within the movable henhouse/coop during non-daylight hours;

4. The space per bird in the henhouse/coop shall not be less than four (4) square feet per bird;

5. No covered enclosure or fenced enclosure shall be located in the front yard or side yard, nor shall the henhouse/coop be closer than ten (10) feet to any property line of an adjacent property, nor within twenty-five (25) feet of any adjacent residential structure. [OUE setbacks can be greater – see above] Odors from chickens, chicken manure, or other chicken related substances shall not be detectable at the property boundaries;

6. All enclosures for the keeping of chickens shall be so constructed and maintained as to prevent rodents or other pests from being harbored underneath, within, or within the walls of the enclosure. The henhouse/coop must be impermeable to rodents, wild birds, and predators, including dogs and cats. Enclosures shall be kept in neat condition, including provision of clean, dry bedding materials and regular removal of waste materials. All manure not used for composting or fertilizing shall be removed promptly;

7. All feed and other items associated with the keeping of chickens that arelikely to attract or to become infested with or infected by rodents or other pests shall be kept in secure containers or otherwise protected so as to prevent rodents and other pests from gaining access to or coming into contact with them;

8. The sale of eggs or any other chicken products generated is prohibited.

9. Nothing in this subsection shall affect any homeowner association declarations or restrictions.

10. Chickens that are no longer wanted by their owners shall not be taken to
Animal Control, nor shall they be released. Unwanted chickens may be taken to Health & Human Services Mosquito Control Division for utilization in the Sentinel Chicken Program.

11. These provisions shall sunset on January 1, 2019, unless reviewed and saved from repeal, through reenactment by the Board of County Commissioners. In the event that this ordinance sunsets, the keeping of any previously allowed chickens shall be considered a nonconforming use for five years thereafter.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

SRQ Planning Commission's Unanimous Support

If you'd like to watch the Planning Commission testimony and commission discussion and vote, please take the following link and advance (using the slider at the bottom) to 2:48. Our agenda item lasts 52 minutes. The date is listed as the 19th, but it was the i8th
And please mark your calendars for the September 20th Board of County Commissioners meeting. This will a DAYTIME meeting in downtown Sarasota and we don't know if it will be morning or afternoon yet. This will be THE most important meeting! 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

North Port Nixes Hens Again

Despite strong support from Commissioner Yates and Mayor Moore, the North Port City Commission once again sunk an effort to have staff draft a backyard hen ordinance based on the successful experience of the City of Sarasota. 

Commissioner Cook's objection to my being able to speak for more than three minutes signaled her continued, and strident, opposition to backyard chickens and Commissioner Tom Jones seemed concerned about the possibility of residents living in mandatory Homeowner Associations (such as Sabal Trace) being unable to prevent poultry. (The City of Sarasota makes it clear that mandatory HOA regulations take precedence over the Citys' ordinance.) That left former supporter Vice Mayor DiFranco, a former chicken owner, as the swing vote. 

Commissioner DiFranco argued that while she had supported backyard hens previously, contact with the community had convinced her that the majority of North Port residents opposed hens. 

Her argument was bolstered by the fact that only three North Port residents argued strongly for hens, and they were offset by three residents (including the ever-entertaining and feisty Buddy Hughes) who argued against. Another citizen thought chickens could be appropriate on large lots with tight regulation. 

Opponents frequently cited property rights ("I don't want to look at coops or cows.") and a concern about property values, although no information or testimony has been brought forward at any level that backyard hens decrease property values. In fact, a recent article documents the fact that chicken coops are being included in some real estate ads as amenities. 

One prominent Sarasota realtor has said "If your neighbor has three lawn ornaments or paints their house pink, that will have more effect on the ability to sell your house than if they have backyard chickens." 

Research presented in a comprehensive study of 100 cities that allow chickens concluded that: "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."*

Commissioners Moore and Yates will need more citizen support if they are to challenge Commissioner DiFranco's conclusion that the community support just isn't there. Of course, the majority of Sarasota City residents never said they favored chickens -- proponents simply demonstrated that allowing chickens posed no discernible threat to residents.

*Illegal Fowl: A Survey of Municipal Laws Relating to Backyard Poultry and a Model Ordinance for Regulating City Chickens by Jaime Bouvier 
Jaime Bouvier is Visiting Legal Writing Professor, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016


Our next Sarasota CLUCK meeting will be held Wednesday May 25th at 6:30 p.m at the Farm Bureau Building at 7289 Palmer Blvd. Sarasota 34240.

Now that the County is moving forward, we'll be discussing strategy and how we can help county planning staff in their efforts.

We'll be looking for volunteer speakers, people that can help with enforcement, and great local personal testimony. We'll also have a chance to introduce veterans from our successful campaign seven years ago that led to chickens being allowed in the City of Sarasota.
This is a chance to connect with Sarasota's chicken underground and organize for the final push. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Sarasota Chicken Train Leaves Station

Sarasota County’s backyard chicken train left the station today (May 10 2016), but not before being slowed down and having some extra stops and baggage added. It is now expected to arrive in late September or early October.

Commissioner Mason, eager to see the languishing hen issue resolved before she leaves the Board in November, brought the matter up, trying to gain support to draft and advertise an Ordinance based on the success in the City of Sarasota. 

But Commissioner Robinson redirected the three Commissioners present (Commissioner Caragiulo had to attend to a matter in Sarasota) to the staff report recommendation that included an added “outreach” provision. Mason withdrew her original motion and moved the staff recommendation, which ultimately passed 4-0, but not before a few concerns were raised.

Here's the staff recommendation: Should the Board recommend the implementation of a "backyard chicken" ordinance, similar to the City of Sarasota's, staff will schedule workshops for both North and South County, as well as facilitate discussion with neighborhood associations such as the Council or Neighborhoods Association (CONA). Staff would also request CLUCK's assistance in providing information and education with these discussions. Subsequent to the workshops, a Board authorization to advertise item will be scheduled to deliver the results of those outreach efforts, as well as, discuss the processing of a proposed Ordinance.

Commissioner Robinson, assuring those assembled that she was not creating roadblocks or speedbumps, asked staff to address “health aspects” that might include required vet visits or licensing. She also wanted clarification on code enforcement – specifically if CLUCK was going to provide a service comparable to what is available in the City of Sarasota where chicken-related calls are routed from paid city staff to CLUCK volunteers to save the City time and money. Commissioner Hines noted concerns from the Sheriff's office.

COMMENT: The report delivered to the Commission clearly stated that the County's Director of Health and Human Services, reviewing both information from the City of Sarasota and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "do not provide a recommendation for or against the keeping of backyard chickens."

As for the role of volunteers, CLUCK is now planning a May 25th evening meeting to explore that question. Details will be provided here, when that date and location are confirmed. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Herald Tribune covers renewed push for hens

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Sarasota County Takes a Step

On March 8th, 2016, the Sarasota County Commission voted 4-1 to move forward, with Commissioner Robinson voting NO. 

There is some confusion about what they are expecting. The Clerk's microphone wasn't on when she restated the motion -- we believe staff is supposed to respond in 60 days with a report. Then, based on the report, the Commission would vote to advertise a hearing, or not.

This is not the action CLUCK sought, although it is movement in a forward direction. CLUCK had hoped the Commission would direct staff to modify the City of Sarasota ordinance as needed and bring it back to the Commission so they could direct staff to advertise a hearing. Commissioner Robinson argued against that, while Commissioner Hines clearly supported that approach. 

Over a year ago (February 18, 2015) Planning Staff gave the Commission a report on chickens and asked for direction from the Commission  (See 2. Below). Even though it had taken a year, we assumed the next step would be to direct staff to draft an ordinance (or tell CLUCK it was never going to happen). Instead the Commission asked for yet another report. 

Points the Commission apparently wants addressed in the next staff report:

• Provision of ample warning to mandatory HOAs to allow them to clarify their policy on chickens so that they can avoid any "grandfathering" issues

• Information from the City of Sarasota staff regarding their experience.

• What zoning categories staff would recommend for inclusion (this might be a menu for board discussion)

• Addressing concerns raised in the Sheriff's March 4th Memorandum, particularly

• Clarifying the respective roles of Animal Services and Code Enforcement. 

• The basis of projections or assumptions regarding financial impact

• Proposed strategies for dealing with unwanted chickens

• Approaches to minimizing the sale of cockerels (incipient roosters)

• Assessment of relative risk of zoonotic disease and strategies to minimize that risk. 

Jennifer Schlinger-Ziegler Re-ignites County Chicken Campaign

Jennifer Schlinger-Ziegler lives in a zoning district that allows backyard chickens. But the dimensions of her property don't allow her to meet the onerous (50 foot) setback restrictions. When a neighbor turned her chickens in, she swung into action and, as a result, the Sarasota County Commission will be considering moving forward. Here is the email CLUCK sent to the Commissioners:


Commissioners: On Tuesday March 8th you will be discussing backyard hens, possibly for the first time in 476 days (the matter of sentinel chickens was a separate, but related, issue).  

At that time a majority of the Board asked backyard chicken advocates to demonstrate that the level of community interest warranted moving forward:

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

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 Maio did not comment during the discussion.  

Tomorrow CLUCK will present additional petition signatures from Sarasota County residents that will bring the total submitted to you to over 1,260, which is 42 times more than thirty people threshold suggested by Commissioner Hines. 

In addition, we have over 900 members of our Sarasota C.L.U.C.K. Facebook group, although we have no easy way of discerning how many live in Sarasota County. 

But wait, there's more! 

I am attaching comments submitted by close to 500 people explaining why they support backyard hens in Unincorporated Sarasota County.

Sarasota CLUCK believes now is the time to act on this citizen initiative. Here's why:

• The experience in the City of Sarasota has been positive. Following the two year trial period the City Commission voted unanimously to make the changes permanent. Although many County residents believe they should be allowed to have more hens than City residents, CLUCK is suggesting the County start with the City approach to facilitate both education and enforcement. 

• Through the collection of signatures, CLUCK has demonstrated significant citizen interest, fulfilling the challenge issued by the Board in 2014

• CLUCK supports the City of Sarasota provision affirming that rules adopted by the boards of mandatory homeowner associations will take precedence over the County changes. In addition, CLUCK could accept a 90 period before any change would take effect to allow any homeowner Boards a chance to amend their rules. 

• Informal conversations with two of the largest neighborhood groups suggest a County approach modeled on the City of Sarasota would not be unduly controversial.

It is our hope, based on these facts, that the Commission will finally instruct staff to propose changes, based as closely as practicable on the successful City of Sarasota experience, that could be brought to the Board for consideration and subsequently advertised for a hearing.