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County residents peck at chicken-keeping ban

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  • | 11:00 p.m. December 3, 2014
Francis Tiner lives in city of Sarasota limits. His hens — or his "girls"— are fenced in his yard, and he considers them pets. "Chickens are personable," Tiner said. Photo by Jessica Salmond
Francis Tiner lives in city of Sarasota limits. His hens — or his "girls"— are fenced in his yard, and he considers them pets. "Chickens are personable," Tiner said. Photo by Jessica Salmond
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Bardy, Rozzy, Betsy and Pippi eye the hands of Francis Tiner attentively, clucking softly as they wait for tidbits of nuts to drop.

“My girls … they love walnuts. That’s their favorite,” Tiner says. The hens will even nibble their preferred snack out of their owner’s hand.

Tiner’s four hens are legal — they live within the city limits of Sarasota.

Tiner has had hens for a little more than two years. He was a part of the movement that pushed for the ability to raise chickens in the city, a group named Citizens Lobbying for Urban Chicken Keeping (CLUCK).

The city passed an ordinance allowing residents to own up to four hens, among other regulations, in 2011. The issue brought about a lot of discussion and debate, said Jan Thornburg, city spokeswoman.

The city reviewed the ordinance in February, and deemed that it was working well.

“It has been wildly successful,” Thornburg said.

Now, Jono Miller, one of the founders of CLUCK, is heading up the organization’s movement to allow chickens in residential areas of the county as well. Currently chickens are only allowed on county properties zoned open-use rural and open-use estate.

He said CLUCK approached the county earlier in the year — after the city reviewed its ordinance — and asked the county to consider enacting a similar ordinance. The county said it wanted to find out more about the city’s experience.

Since 2011, there have been 21 complaints to the city about domestic chickens, and 14 of them have been about roosters, which are not allowed under the ordinance, she said.

Tiner relates some of the low number of complaints to CLUCK’s diligence in educating chicken owners on the rules.

“We self-police,” he said.

If someone in CLUCK hears of someone having a rooster, for example, the person will let the homeowner know that roosters are not allowed.

After getting some direction from the county, Miller said CLUCK would be willing to help draft an ordinance for the county.

CLUCK is also circulating a petition to gauge community support. The online form has signatures from more than 600 Sarasota County residents who support changing the county code to allow chickens, said Ann McAvoy, a county resident and CLUCK supporter.

“The commission shouldn’t micromanage backyards,” McAvoy said. “People should have the option.”

Heidi Pike lives in the Lake Sarasota area, past I-75. Her daughter, Paige, got involved in Future Farmers of America, and her two younger children are in 4-H. The family acquired two hens and followed the regulations set down by the city, she said.

“I didn’t know I couldn’t have them in the county,” Pike said.

A neighbor complained about the chickens, and Pike relocated Storm Trooper and Lego Blaster (her younger children named the hens, she said) to a nearby farm to comply with the county code. The county code enforcement officer told her to get in contact with CLUCK. She’s helped collect about 250 signatures for the petition.

“It’s been the chicken saga,” she said. “I’m part of their crew now. The county should get on board with the city.”

Newly elected County Commissioner Paul Caragiulo was a city commissioner when the city allowed backyard chickens. He said he would be open to discussing it at the county level.

“I’m not anti-chicken, as long as there are protections in place,” he said.

County Commission Chairwoman Carolyn Mason said she would support a county ordinance that reflected the restrictions in the city.

“Roosters are obnoxious,” she said, but added that she had visited the coop of a city resident and was impressed by how clean and quiet the hens were.

CLUCK wants the county to give the organization more specifics before it will approach anyone about a proposal, Miller said.

City ordinance
• Limit four chickens; no roosters
• No slaughtering chickens or selling eggs
• Coop must be mobile, impermeable to rodents and fenced in, and chickens must be kept inside at night.
• Coop must be at least 4 square feet per bird residing in the enclosure.
• Coop must not be located in front yard, or closer than 10 feet to the property line of an adjacent property.
• No dog or cat that kills a chicken will be considered dangerous or aggressive for that reason.

County ordinance
• Chickens are allowed only in open use rural- and open use estate-zoned property.
• 500-foot setback from residential property line in OUR; 100 feet in OUE.



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