BROOKSVILLE — Jim Brock simply doesn't get Hernando County's interest in chickens.
With real issues to tackle like sinkholes and the problems caused by home foreclosures, why would officials want to add one more thing to complicate people's lives.
"The County Commission, whatever anybody wants, they're going to give it to them,'' said Brock, president of the Oakwood Acres Property Owners Association. "This is going to pit neighbor against neighbor.''
Brock, who represents 167 members of his community, plans to urge the County Commission on Tuesday to reject a proposed ordinance that would allow up to four chickens on certain residential properties.
In Oakwood Acres, residents cannot have farm animals, according to the community's restrictions. One horse per lot larger than an acre is allowed; other farm animals are forbidden. But Brock argued that if someone sought and received a county permit for chickens, it would be up to the community association to bring legal action.
"I don't know where the county is coming from on all this,'' he said.
The county began looking into the chicken issue after Spring Hill resident Carol Aquilante requested consideration of the idea. Commissioners approved the issue on first reading but had questions. A Feb. 26 hearing was postponed when still more questions were raised.
Last-minute concerns came from deed-restricted communities and representatives of both the local builders and Realtors associations, who argued that the chicken ordinance would harm property values.
Aquilante voiced her concerns in a letter to the county just a few days later.
"The issue seems to be with the smell of the chickens,'' she wrote. "The only smell you can get is when a homeowner does not do their job in keeping the coop clean, and they will forfeit their rights. Chickens themselves do not smell as much as this last-minute dealing with the builders and Realtors.''
Aquilante urged the commission to "not be bullied by this group. Do you not realize that you work for us and not the builders?''
Other residents have also contacted their commissioners to support the chicken ordinance.
Joseph Campbell of Spring Hill likened the trend of communities allowing chickens in urban areas to the push for victory gardens during the world wars.
"This is one way the tax-paying citizen can offset the cost of their grocery bill and provide a better-quality food for their families,'' he wrote.
Royal Highlands residents John and Randi Allocco also wrote in favor of chickens.
"I feel that home values would be and are more affected by poor maintenance, messy yards and foreclosures than allowing four chickens (no roosters) could possibly ever cause,'' they wrote. "Noise and smell is a much greater concern with poorly trained dogs than with a few chickens.''
Alex Melvin, president of Rural King, the Illinois retailer moving into the old Kmart building in Spring Hill, also wrote a letter of support to the county.
Melvin noted that poultry is the fastest-growing category in his company's sales.
"Last year we sold over half a million chickens throughout our stores and can't wait to see what we will sell this year," he wrote.
There are several areas of the ordinance that could be tweaked to respond to questions raised by commissioners, according to Ron Pianta, assistant administrator for planning and development.
A county ordinance allowing chickens would not trump a community's deed restrictions, and there could be language inserted that would make that clear, he said.
The appropriate number of chickens for a back yard was another question. The original version of the ordinance restricted the number to four hens, but Pianta said most other jurisdictions allow four to six, and the commission simply needs to settle on a number.
Questions about coop configuration and fencing could also be resolved by softening the ordinance's language.
Concerns that chickens, locked in closed coops, would overheat in the summer is alleviated by the design of most modern coops because they have an outside run attached, Pianta noted. He included pictures in the commission's Tuesday agenda packet.
By being specific about chickens not being visible from the road or adjoining properties, concerns about fencing could then be settled on a case-by-case basis.
To avoid having chicken permits clog up the Planning and Zoning Commission's agenda, or even the County Commission's agenda, Pianta suggests that administrative permits be issued by staff. That process would require the person wanting chickens to get approval from neighbors.
"We wanted to make sure that the neighbors were informed,'' he said. "This will have the same effect of notifying the neighbors.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.