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Oldsmar council clucks about chickens but doesn't outright ban them

OLDSMAR — The City Council was poised to make a choice: Allow chickens or ban them.

It decided to do neither.

That means residents who own chickens can keep them if no one cries fowl.

Some people in the city want to keep chickens. A lot already have them, according to council member Janice Miller, who asked the council to consider the matter.

For years, Oldsmar outlawed chickens. Or at least, that was the common belief. But after a closer inspection of the code, it wasn't exactly clear, said City Manager Bruce Haddock.

It's livestock that's banned in city neighborhoods and the city code doesn't define livestock.

At a meeting Tuesday, Mayor Jim Ronecker said he doesn't want to "ruffle any feathers," but he thinks chickens are already banned. He read a 2003 city resolution that sought to change Oldsmar's post office classification from rural to urban. And that very resolution states that the city "no longer has cows, pigs, chickens or other livestock."

Fowl proponents rave about the convenience and earth-friendly advantages of having chickens laying eggs in their back yards. But Ronecker was worried about something they rarely mention: What happens to the chickens a few years down the road, when they stop laying eggs?

"I don't know if I want people to start slaughtering chickens in their back yards," he said.

Council member Linda Norris, who is pro-chicken, said they should cross that road when they come to it. She didn't think people were going to start whacking hens. And if that happens, she said, the city can always revisit the issue.

City Attorney Tom Trask drafted two options for city leaders to consider: a pro-chicken proposal and an anti-chicken code amendment that would include chickens in the list of banned livestock.

The pro-chicken proposal required people to clean up after their chickens. But Vice Mayor Doug Bevis said he talked to people who live in chicken-friendly communities and that doesn't always happen.

"My friend I was talking to today, he says it smells to high heaven," Bevis said.

And council member Jerry Beverland, who is anti-chicken, said chickens are a lot more work than people think. He should know because when he was a young teen in Largo, he was a member of the Future Farmers of America and one of his projects was chickens.

Three city residents spoke in favor of chickens and a few supporters wrote city leaders, too.

Nobody spoke out against chickens at Tuesday's meeting, but a couple of residents wrote City Hall to oppose them.

Resident Charles Winscott said city leaders have done a pretty good job overcoming outsiders' assumptions that Oldsmar is a "hick town." Allowing chickens would do just the opposite, he wrote in an email.

"Have you ever heard of the Beverly Hillbillies?" he asked.

Ultimately, Ronecker suggested the council do nothing. Miller asked the city manager if people who own chickens will get punished.

"I don't think the code prohibits them the way it's written now," Haddock said.

If the city gets a complaint about chickens smelling up a neighborhood, someone from the city will likely check it out, Haddock said. But city workers aren't going to drive down the street looking for chickens in people's back yards.

"I move we do nothing," Miller said.

"Point of order," Haddock said, "You technically don't need a motion to do nothing."

In the end, council members, pro-chicken and anti-chicken, reached a compromise and agreed to leave things alone.

After the meeting, pro-chicken resident Robin Friesz said she was satisfied.

"With the lack of support we had, that was probably the best option," Friesz said. "If you're a responsible chicken owner, you could fly under the radar."

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4155. Go to tampabay.com/letters to write a letter to the editor.

Oldsmar council clucks about chickens but doesn't outright ban them 03/07/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 7:58pm]
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