BROOKSVILLE — After several months of spirited debate, the victors on Tuesday were the chicken lovers, who told the Hernando County Commission they just wanted a chance to feed and educate their families.
In a divided vote, the commission approved an ordinance allowing up to four hens on certain residential properties.
Chicken advocates urged the commission to approve the measure so families can provide their children with an educational experience. Others pointed out that raising chickens can help families with tight finances.
Carol Aquilante, the Spring Hill resident who first asked the commission to consider allowing chickens in residential neighborhoods, acknowledged that the ordinance had taken up a lot of time and energy of commissioners and staffers, but urged the commission to support it.
She said she wasn't asking for something outrageous.
"I just want to raise a few chickens for the eggs,'' she said.
But others raised concerns over possible problems with odor or diseases. Several local Realtors warned that adding chickens to neighborhoods already depressed by issues with sinkholes and insurance would further lower property values.
"We are vehemently opposed to this chicken ordinance,'' said Ana Trinque, president-elect of the Hernando County Association of Realtors.
Trinque said the county has plenty of zoning categories and enough agricultural land to give people who want to have farm animals options.
"What is the sense of having zoning?'' she asked.
Trinque also said that if the county approved the ordinance, it might trump community deed restrictions.
But county staffers, having heard that concern before the last public hearing on the ordinance, added language to the measure making it clear that deed restrictions and homeowners association rules will take precedence over the ordinance. Any permit for chickens issued to someone who lives in a community that forbids them would be void.
The majority of commissioners agreed with that change.
They also agreed that four was an adequate number of chickens for any piece of residential property, and they altered the language regarding coop configuration and screening from neighbors to answer questions and concerns raised by commissioners and the public.
The commission also agreed to a different process for getting a permit. Instead of going before the Planning and Zoning Commission, an administrative permit will be issued if someone gets written permission from all adjacent property owners.
"You've got to have neighbor buy-in,'' said commission Chairman Dave Russell.
Commissioner Nick Nicholson said he objected to the ordinance for all the reasons raised by opponents. Nicholson and Commissioner Jim Adkins voted against the ordinance, with Russell and Commissioners Diane Rowden and Wayne Dukes voting in favor.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.