A Hernando Commission majority got it right last week when it ruled people can keep a handful of hens in residential neighborhoods. The new ordinance, adopted after four months of debate, mirrors similar laws in Pinellas County and in the city of Sarasota. Hernando's ordinance requires a county permit, written permission from adjoining neighbors and a cap of four birds per back yard.
The reasonable rules, however, failed to persuade some residential Realtors who contended inaccurately that the noise and odors of backyard chickens would depress property values. A commission majority of Diane Rowden, Wayne Dukes and David Russell, wisely ignored the Realtors' unsubstantiated beliefs.
But, the prolonged debate illustrates an unflattering point. The real estate industry — with Commissioners Nick Nicholson and Jim Adkins in agreement, at least on this issue — frequently neglects to address more imperative reasons for depressed property values.
Certainly, the sinkhole problem is well documented and Adkins and other commissioners are seeking a remedy from Tallahassee. A sinkhole home gets an immediate 50 percent discount in its assessments and that has knocked $280 million from the county tax rolls.
Property values, however, also are affected by the neighborhood desirability. How are the schools? Is there a park or library nearby? Are the sides of roads clean or are they littered and overgrown? On these issues, past commissions have fallen down. They reduced public investment in services and facilities and recently rejected the Hernando School Board's plea for a restored impact fee to finance classroom improvements.
The real estate industry shouldn't be worried about chickens, it should be concerned about attracting home buyers to Hernando by ensuring the county's quality of life attributes don't further diminish.