‘Backyard chickens’ one step closer to being allowed to roost in Safety Harbor

The Safety Harbor City Commission on Monday gave initial approval to an ordinance that would allow up to four backyard chickens per residence in town.

The last time the Safety Harbor City Commission addressed a proposed ordinance that would allow up to four backyard chickens per residence (where permitted) in town, the discussion took on the air of a three-ring circus.

However, during the first official reading of Ordinance 2017-12 Monday night, the atmosphere at City Hall was much more controlled, and the comments were short and to the point.

After Community Development Director Marcie Stenmark outlined the details of the ordinance, which included research data as well as guidelines for things such as coop location, sanitation and other restrictions, Mayor Joe Ayoub called for public comment on the topic.

As was the case at the previous meeting on April 3, those for and against allowing chickens in town aired their opinions on the subject, with some downplaying the potential side effects of having hens for neighbors and others decrying the problems associated with poultry ownership, including attracting varmints and the possibility that the city could be overrun with unwanted fowl when they stop laying eggs after age three.

“We’re a small city, we have a compact downtown and this is where the chickens are going to end up if you choose to allow these hens on these congested 50 by 100-foot lots,” Helene Shepard said. “Aging poultry no longer wanted is going to hit the streets of downtown, since you can’t slaughter them and they only lay eggs for three years or so.”

Safety Harbor resident Helene Shepard speaks about the backyard chicken issue during the City Commission meeting on Monday, May 15, 2017.

After suggesting putting the chickens at Folly Farm as a type of community chicken coop, Shepard added, “I think the most important thing is where the chickens are going to end up, and that’s downtown.”

Following additional comments both pro and anti-chicken, Commissioner Scott Long cut to the chase with his summary of the situation.

Long noted that with deed-restricted communities making up roughly 80 percent of the city and very few residents expressing interest in owning chickens, the amount of time and energy being spent on the subject was not equal to the issue’s importance.

“We have ninety-five pages of backup materials on this,” he said. “Ninety-five pages.”

“And I’ll make this pledge to you: if we pass this and we ever get more than 95 households in the city with chickens, and I’m still on the City Commission, I’ll come to the next meeting wearing a chicken suit!”

Safety Harbor City Commissioner Scott Long.

Long related how he researched the subject by traveling to St. Petersburg, one of the five communities in Pinellas County that allows backyard chickens, as well as reading articles on the web, and after learning there were very few complaints associated with poultry ownership, he concluded it wasn’t worth wasting any more time on the topic.

“It seems like whatever problems we’re gonna have here, our code is going to take care of it,” he said.

“I think we can all agree that we have far more important issues to worry about in this city than chickens.”

Long’s comments were echoed by Commissioner Andy Zodrow, and Vice-Mayor Carlos Diaz and Commissioner Cliff Merz also expressed support for approving the ordinance and moving forward.

Mayor Ayoub, however, said he was torn on the issue.

Safety Harbor Mayor Joe Ayoub.

“My position is I’d rather move forward a little more slowly,” Ayoub said. “I’d rather maybe take a smaller step than just opening it up to many of the lots in the city, or let us explore the option of having them on Folly Farms.”

“I’m not opposed to chickens, per se, I just prefer we have a little more restrictive of an ordinance and if it works, then opening it up for more chickens. But as of right now, I’m not supporting it.”

Ayoub then then put the item up for a vote, and it passed by a count of 4-1, with the mayor expressing the lone ‘nay’ vote.

After the meeting, Ayoub elaborated on his decision.

“I’m not opposed to people having chickens and fresh eggs,” he told Safety Harbor Connect.

“But given the amount of people I heard from that expressed concerns about them, I would have preferred an approach that was more gradual, or would have liked to further explore having a place at Folly Farms where people could raise chickens and get fresh eggs.”

The ordinance is scheduled for a second and final reading at the next City Commission meeting, which will be held on Thursday, June 8.

Harborites, how do you feel about the backyard chicken issue? Let us know in the comments below.

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