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Safety Harbor will rule on allowing chickens in yards

SAFETY HARBOR — It was the cock-a-doodle-doo that alerted Tammy Vrana that something was foul in the city.

On her daily walks through her Safety Harbor neighborhood, Vrana would hear a rooster's crow ring through the air. An urban planner, Vrana wondered if there was a city ordinance that allowed the bird and its crowing.

"I noticed that there were a number of municipalities that were permissive to backyard chickens," said Vrana, who is also a member of Safety Harbor's Planning and Zoning Board. "There are obviously chickens in our community. Our code allows potbelly pigs, but chickens are illegal."

Vrana brought the issue to City Manager Matthew Spoor. Now, yard chickens may soon find a safe haven in Safety Harbor, a waterfront community that touts its fine neighborhoods, well-groomed parks and the famous Safety Harbor Resort & Spa.

On Monday, the City Commission will discuss whether to allow up to four hens per resident as pets.

At least one commissioner, Nancy Besore, is all for the idea. But Mayor Andy Steingold is clucking about it, admitting the "chicken ordinance makes me feel a little chicken."

"I'm not sure that in one of the most densely populated counties," he said, "it would be overly beneficial to neighborhoods to have chickens running around."

The mayor said he understands that people want to have chickens so they can have organic fresh eggs. It's a trend sweeping the country.

"I appreciate that," he said. "I just worry about the potential for issues between neighbors in the community."

Under the proposed ordinance, residents would be able to have up to four hens on their residential lot. The henhouse or coop would have to be in the back yard or side yard, and the area where the chickens lived would have to be screened with opaque fencing.

The sale of eggs or other products derived from the chickens would be prohibited. Odors from the chickens, chicken manure and other related substances could not be detectable at the home's property line.

Steingold has a question about that provision.

"Who's going to measure the odor and how do you measure it?" he wondered.

And yes, the ordinance will discriminate against the male of the species. Because they are so noisy cock-a-doodle-dooing and they strut all over the place, roosters will not be allowed in the city. For those not schooled in the biology of egg laying and chicken reproduction, that won't stop the hens from laying eggs.

"Between the age of 4 and 6 months, hens just start laying eggs," said Sandi Martin of Martin's Farm in Largo, which sells chickens, ducks, geese and all things fowl. "They automatically do it. You don't have to have a rooster."

Chickens are all the rage these days, especially with those who love all things organic. And it isn't just because of access to fresh eggs.

"Chicken manure is preferred when it comes to fertilizer," Vrana said. "It's top quality."

Safety Harbor isn't the first Pinellas city to tackle the chicken trend.

Tarpon Springs recently gave the idea a thumbs-down. After quite a flap, Gulfport officials decided to allow residents there to have up to 10 chickens. Chickens are also allowed in St. Petersburg, Dunedin, Belleair and Largo.

Martin said that even though some city codes forbid chickens, her business is still robust.

"It's almost like an underground thing," Martin said. "People feel with the economy so bad, they can at least have free eggs. You can't get a cow, you can't get pigs. But you can get chickens."

Contact Demorris A. Lee at dalee@sptimes.com and (727) 445-4174.

.If you go

Safety Harbor City Commission meeting

Date: Monday, Aug. 15

Time: 7:30 p.m.

Place: City Hall, 750 Main St.

Safety Harbor will rule on allowing chickens in yards 08/12/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 12, 2011 6:48pm]
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