DADE CITY — Mike Phillips leaned forward on the bench inside the historic courthouse, pressed his palms together and prayed. When his turn came to address the Planning Commission, he made a simple plea:
"We want our neighborhood back, please," he said.
Phillips and other residents along Porsche Place say their peace was disrupted in March, when Connie Kloss moved into the Shady Hills neighborhood with about 70 exotic birds. Macaws. Conures. African greys. Quaker parrots.
The birds live in tidy cages inside two buildings on Kloss' property. The noise — squawking, shrieking — is constant and unbearable, neighbors say.
Kloss, a 61-year-old registered nurse, keeps the birds as pets but also breeds them. It's a hobby that brings her joy. She sells some birds, although after paying for food and the birds' upkeep, she said she doesn't make any money.
In order to have that many birds on her property, however, she needs a special exemption to her zoning.
And so the neighbors, who have complained to county agencies, law enforcement and even PETA, pinned their hopes on the Planning Commission, which heard Kloss' case Wednesday.
Officials discussed approving the zoning request with some exceptions — that Kloss could not expand her business, that if a bird died, she could not replace it. She would also need to keep the birds at least 100 feet from neighbors.
When asked what she planned to do with the birds living in a detached garage that sits 35 feet from Phillips' home, Kloss said she would put the birds outside under a carport, which she would build behind her mobile home.
"There would be no barriers to keep the noise down," said Commissioner Art Woodworth Jr.
The neighbors also spoke:
"It's become a battle and it's very stressful," said Beth Phillips, who played a recording of the birds.
Diahann Grady brought her 4-year-old daughter to the hearing with her. They live on Rolls Royce Place, a street over and a few houses from Kloss. Her husband, Eugene, 49, was fighting cancer, she said. When he was home from the hospital, he couldn't stand the birds.
"They were very irritating to him," Grady said. "He just wanted to have peace."
He died May 5. In the weeks before his death, Grady said, her husband couldn't relax at home.
"Yes, we live in the country and you're allowed a few animals," she said to the commissioners. "But this is ridiculous."
The commission on Wednesday sided with the neighbors — and denied Kloss' request for an exemption to keep all those birds. Her zoning limits her to 20 birds per acre.
Without any special exemption, Kloss can only have 26 birds on her 1.3 acres.
She plans to appeal the decision to the County Commission.
"I'm not worried," she said after the vote Wednesday. "I'm going to keep the birds."
But to Phillips, the Planning Commission's vote was the answer to his prayers.
"I've been praying that the devil be removed," he said. "And the good Lord has provided it."
"We are going to get our neighborhood back," he said.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.