1. News

As backyard chickens proliferate, Tampa okays new rules

TAMPA — The City Council gave its initial approval Thursday night to new rules for the growing number of city dwellers who want to raise chickens.

Drafted after two years of debate, the new ordinance would allow chickens at single-family detached homes and duplexes — but not apartment complexes — under certain conditions.

If the rules are approved at a second and final hearing July 18, residents:

• Could keep only hens. No roosters would be allowed.

• Would be allowed to keep one chicken for every 1,000 square feet of land area.

• Would have to keep the chickens in a fenced or walled area at all times.

• Would have to have a coop no more than 6 feet high and covering no more than 125 square feet. Coops also would have to meet city setback requirements from neighboring properties.

Council members Mike Suarez and Frank Reddick voted against the ordinance.

"The reason why my colleagues support this ordinance is they've never experienced a chicken in their yard," said Reddick, who described having his flower beds dug up, his yard soiled by droppings and a chicken flying to his roof to escape a dog. He predicted 6-foot-tall coops would allow chickens to fly over 6-foot-tall privacy fences, land in adjacent back yards, be eaten by dogs and create neighborhood feuds.

Several residents likewise opposed the rules, saying chickens can tear up landscaping, could spread disease or aggravate allergies. And, they said, even squawking hens make noise.

Although code enforcement can respond to violations of the ordinance, opponents and officials pointed out that if chickens escape from fenced-in yards and no one claims them, then city officials can't capture or move them because Tampa is a designated bird sanctuary.

"We are trying to develop neighborhoods in which people want to live," said longtime civic activist Margaret Vizzi, who was speaking for the umbrella group Tampa Homeowners, An Association of Neighborhoods. "It can't be regulated. Not only can code enforcement not do anything when they're out, but they can't even look over the fence to see if the people have the correct number of chickens."

But council supporters said the chickens are already there, so not passing the ordinance will do nothing to prevent or address any problems.

If adopted July 18, the ordinance would take effect Aug. 1.

Along with voting to approve the ordinance, the council asked city staff to study whether a different city ordinance designating Tampa as a bird sanctuary can be updated to make the new chicken rules easier to enforce. That report is due Aug. 29.