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Chickens now legal in Gulfport; henpecked council relents

Suwannee Conroy-Baarsch, age 4, holds a Barred Rocks chicken outside her Gulfport home. After months of debate and comments from residents, the city has decided that residents can keep up to 10 chickens.

MARTHA RIAL | Times

Suwannee Conroy-Baarsch, age 4, holds a Barred Rocks chicken outside her Gulfport home. After months of debate and comments from residents, the city has decided that residents can keep up to 10 chickens.

GULFPORT — The great chicken debate is over, and the chickens won.

Residents of this funky Pinellas County city should be allowed to raise chickens without breaking the law, the City Council decided this week.

Until Tuesday's vote it was illegal to keep even one chicken in Gulfport. Now you can have up to 10.

Backyard chickens are a "huge movement going throughout the country,'' said council member Michele King, perhaps the most vocal advocate for backyard chicken coops. At one point during Tuesday's City Council meeting, she held up an Atlanta newspaper article about a Georgia "chicken whisperer."

"If we don't do this,'' King added, "we are not moving forward."

Council members Judy Ryerson and Bob Worthington voted against the measure.

The vote ends months of debate that prompted a flood of pro-chicken phone calls, letters and e-mails, and visions of tearful children.

"This has been before us many, many times before and generated a tremendous amount of discussion. I want this to be the final decision and vote," Mayor Michael Yakes told the council.

The great chicken debate began last summer when a member of a backyard chicken flock loudly announced she had laid an egg.

A nearby police officer heard the noise, investigated and cited the homeowner, Briggs Monteith, with violating city code.

Over the next six months, Monteith, his wife, Jennifer Conroy, and their two daughters — Peregrine, 7, and Suwanee, 4 — became regular visitors to City Hall as the council debated, voted for and then against allowing chickens in the city.

"I am here hopefully for the last time," Conroy said Tuesday, as her two daughters ran up to the podium to stand beside her.

Conroy held up a carton of eggs she said her chickens laid that morning, and asked the council members to "let our chickens rest easy and become legal citizens of Gulfport."

Chickens now legal in Gulfport; henpecked council relents 02/05/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 6, 2009 9:49pm]
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