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Tampa to revisit rules on backyard chickens

9-year-old Sofia Starkey reacts with surprise as one of her five Rhode Island Red chickens jumps into the air to catch a morsel of food in the back yard of her Seminole Heights home in Tampa.
Published Feb. 14, 2013

TAMPA — Following a national trend to eat locally — at a backyard level — Tampa's City Council is taking a look at urban chickens.

The city's code effectively bans keeping chickens in back yards, but it's only enforced when a neighbor complains.

Last April, hen owners appealed to the City Council, which voted to amend the ordinance.

Now, 10 months later, council members will take a look at a proposed revision Thursday that would allow chickens under a definition of domestic or companion animals, with these stipulations:

• Hens only (no roosters allowed).

• One chicken per 1,000 square feet of land, rounded down, and not more than 10 total.

• Must be kept in an enclosed area (fenced or walled) at all times.

• A coop must be on the property, 10 feet from any house.

That means that for a standard city lot of 50 by 50 feet, the revision would allow an owner two hens on the property.

That sounds great, said Susan Ramos, who raised hens along the Hillsborough River in West Tampa when her kids were little and prodded the city to change the rules last year.

Under the current city code, in effect since 1990, chickens are considered farm animals and while allowed, they are effectively banned by a restriction. The code requires each chicken, up to five, to be kept in an enclosed area of 5,000 square feet.

With a standard 2,500-square-foot lot, an owner of two lots could keep one hen — but here's the kicker: Chickens must be kept within an enclosed area at least 200 feet from neighboring homes.

That's two-thirds the length of a football field. It makes most Tampa chickens outlaws.

While many consider the birds pets that produce fresh eggs, to others they are a nuisance. Some say they're noisy. Others worry that fowl may be unsanitary and create health problems.

Meanwhile, free-roaming chickens in the city, including the ones in Ybor City, are protected under another ordinance that designates Tampa a sanctuary for all birds, including "wildfowl."

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at eparker@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3431.

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