Hillsborough Commissioner Sandra Murman seeks backyard chicken rules

They’re allowed in Tampa, why not Hillsborough, say advocates.
Hillsborough County is considering new rules to allow backyard chickens on residential properties.
Hillsborough County is considering new rules to allow backyard chickens on residential properties. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published May 6, 2020|Updated May 6, 2020

TAMPA — People with fowl shouldn’t run afoul of Hillsborough County land use rules.

That is the sentiment of hundreds of residents advocating for backyard chickens, which are prohibited in residential areas in the county. Commissioner Sandra Murman says maybe it’s time to change that.

"If it’s done reasonably, I think it actually makes sense,'' Murman said prior to Wednesday’s county commission meeting.

At Murman’s request, the county took its first step Wednesday toward allowing poultry in residential areas. On a 7-0 vote, the commission directed its legal staff to draft an amendment to the land development code allowing residents of unincorporated Hillsborough County to own and raise backyard chickens in residential-zoned areas.

It’s far from a precedent in the Tampa Bay area. Some Pinellas County cities approved local ordinances a decade ago. The city of Tampa followed suit in 2013, but Hillsborough County never did. Murman suggested following the city of Tampa’s rules.

"That ordinance has seemed to work well for them,'' Murman told the commission.

The draft amendment would exclude roosters and likely limit on the number of hens on a parcel and require the birds be kept in coops.

Commissioner Stacy White urged the staff to consider the problems that could arise if the hens are not housed properly.

"They can become quite a nuisance when they enter neighboring residences and they start to scratch up the grass and everything,'' he said.

Murman’s request drew accolades from members of the 634-member Facebook group, Hillsborough County Citizens for Backyard Chickens.

Heather Trowbridge, 34, told the Tampa Bay Times she moved to Hillsborough County from Michigan less than a year ago and became an advocate for backyard chickens when her search for farm fresh eggs proved difficult and expensive.

She said she understands the public’s apprehension over the potential for noisy birds, but noted the proposed amendment excludes roosters, which are considerably louder than hens.

Bonnie Cantrell said she got chickens as pets in 2010 but had to get rid of them in 2012 after code enforcement intervened. She said she didn’t realize the birds weren’t allowed in Brandon. She started an online petition in December 2011 that collected 872 signatures, but it got little interest from commissioners at the time.

That petition touted the attributes of poultry including their appetite for insects and weeds as well as their ability to provide organic fertilizer and serve as a food source.

Multiple speakers supported the plan during public comments to the commissioners.

"You will help Hillsborough County residents have a reliable food supply in their own backyard,'' said Noelle Licor.