Underground chickens cluck quietly in Temple Terrace

A few residents will have to be content with illicit egg layers; there's no ordinance coming.
Published December 12 2014

TEMPLE TERRACE — Chickens in the back yard, like espresso makers in the kitchen and BMWs in the garage, have become a mark of gentrified suburbia.

In the midst of the urban farming movement, as the taste of very fresh eggs turned accountants-by-day into farmers-by-dawn, cities across the country passed ordinances allowing backyard chickens. Tampa last year okayed raising hens, but not their noisy mates, roosters. And in Temple Terrace, City Council member Grant Rimbey has on a couple of occasions urged his colleagues to do the same in order to compete with places like Seminole Heights for hip, upscale home buyers and businesses.

Rimbey has decided, however, to quit pressing the issue.

It appears that the town's surreptitious poultry farmers want to continue flying under the radar. Rimbey said he has been told that they don't want the question to come before the council for fear that it would raise a controversy, fail to pass and spur city code agents to swoop down like chicken hawks.

"They've been able to do this for decades with a handshake agreement with neighbors,'' Rimbey said.

Rimbey estimated that a dozen or so Temple Terrace residents are raising chickens in their back yards, some of them sharing eggs with neighbors. He came across a number of them, he said, when he campaigned door-to-door in 2012.

Currently, the city goes after these clandestine chicken enablers only when it gets a complaint, code compliance director Joe Gross said.

The ordinance empowers the City Council to allow residents to raise chickens on a case-by-case basis, but at least the last two times the issue has come before the council, members have turned down the requests.

Sheryl Cerrato, who failed to win approval in May, told council members that her fowl were more like service chickens than anything else, feathered mood enhancers that helped her cope with a variety of medical maladies. She offered to produce notes from doctors in support of her chicken therapy.

Rather than give them up, Cerrato moved from Temple Terrace to Riverview, where she said she has received no complaints.

Gross said Cerrato would not have made an ideal "poster child'' for the backyard chicken movement, noting that her birds, which included two roosters, wandered throughout the neighborhood, drawing complaints from nearby apartment dwellers.

Cerrato said some of the neighbors listed as complaining had told her they liked having the chickens around, that it brought back childhood memories.

"They bring you happiness," she said.

Last year, after another friend of the feathered kind was turned down in his request to keep chickens, the council asked City Manager Gerald Seeber to look into the whole issue of raising suburban chickens, and report back. Every council member except Rimbey — Eddie Vance, David Pogorilich, Robert Boss and Alison Fernandez — voiced reservations about making Temple Terrace a chicken-friendly town.

Fernandez stepped down last month because of term limits, and Cheri Donohue took her place. Donohue said she would be interested in hearing what people have to say about the issue if it came before the council, but she was not planning to bring it up.

"We have other things to concern ourselves with,'' she said.

The city manager's report suggested that if the council wanted to allow chickens, members needed to address issues such as the number of chickens they would allow, the dimensions of coops and whether to permit roosters.

"If the city elects to create some standards, then the city will need to address the workload associated with enforcement responsibilities,'' the report stated. Seeber stated that he did not plan to bring the issue up for discussion unless a member asked him to.

The report came out more than a year ago.

"I haven't heard a peep since,'' Gross said.

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Philip Morgan at pmorgan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3435.