Supporters want Commission to legalize owning chickens

They are illegal, an underground skirting of the law in Pinellas County, one contraband egg at a time.

Backyard chickens.

Raising these fowl in unincorporated residential areas of Pinellas violates the county code.

But supporters of urban farming want the County Commission to pass an ordinance allowing them in unincorporated areas. The first of two public hearings will be at 9:30 a.m. today in Clearwater, leading to a final hearing and vote Dec. 20.

Home-raised chickens help people save money in a struggling economy, said Lisa McBride, 51, organizer of Pinellas County Citizens for Backyard Poultry.

“It’s not just about $2-a-dozen eggs. First of all, organic costs $4,” said McBride, a volunteer 4H leader. “Second of all, it’s about being able to develop a sustainable garden. And it’s about animal rights.”

Chicken waste helps fertilize yards, supporters say. And by raising a few at home, people also avoid supporting what some consider unethical treatment of chickens at large chicken farms, said McBride.

With the county’s ban, however, McBride said she has to raise her five chickens as pets in the garage of her north Pinellas home. Others have told county officials of illegal outdoor coops.

Commissioner Susan Latvala offered the proposed ordinance allowing chickens in back yards — they’re already okay in agriculture and rural areas — but with limits in Florida’s most densely populated county.

No more than four could be kept outside, only at single-family homes with a backyard pen and only hens. No roosters, ducks or other poultry. No slaughtering or sales. But Latvala dismissed worries of neighborhood headaches, noting New York City allows chickens.

“Have you ever heard of a chicken incident in Pinellas County?” Latvala asked.

St. Petersburg, Largo, Gulfport, Dunedin and Belleair allow backyard chickens. But Safety Harbor voted down a similar measure in August, citing fears of noise and stench.

This is not the first time Latvala has proposed legalizing backyard chickens. When Latvala floated the idea last year, Commissioner Karen Seel and others worried how it would be enforced.

Students in 4H spoke in support. “We like to think of them as pets with benefits,” one student told the board to cackles.

St. Petersburg Times