Tarpon OKs backyard poultry keeping in split vote

TARPON SPRINGS - Let them eat eggs.

That's essentially what Tarpon Springs city commissioners announced to its residents last week by approving an ordinance that allows households to raise egg-bearing fowl.

The 3-2 split decision now puts Tarpon Springs alongside Belleair, Dunedin, Gulfport, Largo and St. Petersburg as poultry-tolerable Pinellas County cities. Backyard chicken coops are also permissible in unincorporated areas of the county.

Mayor David Archie and Commissioner Susan Slattery cast the no votes.

Under rules that are similar to those set forth in ordinances passed by Pinellas municipalities and the county, Tarpon residents may now raise up to four hens per single-family detached home. The fowl must be contained within a secured area, coops may not exceed 6 feet in height and they must be screened from neighbors' views.

Three amendments to the original ordinance were also approved. The first prohibits the selling of eggs, chickens or other products by owners.

The other two changes related to the application process residents must complete in order to keep chickens. Interested owners will have to fill out and sign an application and pay a $50 administrative fee.

Residents who attempt to circumvent the application process run the risk of receiving code enforcement fines. That will include people who have already been skirting municipal rule by housing chickens on their property, said City Manager Mark LeCouris.

"We know there are people out there that have chickens already," LeCouris said. "We're not going to go out there this week or next week, but I imagine within a good window of 30 to 60 days I would encourage those people" to apply.

"Just because you've got them now doesn't mean you don't have to go through the process."

A last-ditch effort by three residents to sway commissioners failed to halt the ordinance's momentum toward approval, which has been building for months. Concerns they raised included foul odors, chickens straying through neighborhoods, especially after storms and flooding and the birds attracting predators to residential areas.

Reacting to the concerns, Commissioner Jeff Larsen said backyard chicken husbandry isn't some radical idea.

"We're not really talking about doing something that's crazy or unique," he said. Larsen Cities contacted by Tarpon staff members staff reported that the number of residents who had begun raising backyard chickens was small.

Archie, though, said there should be some way for people in neighborhoods without homeowners associations and deed restrictions barring chicken to avoid living near the birds.

"If you want it to be enacted there should be other options for people who don't want to be around chickens to be able to get out of it."

Keeping track of permitting will be difficult for the city's overworked code unit, Archie said.

"Our code enforcement officer already has enough to try and do to police the rules and regulations we already have," the mayor said. "Now we want to enact something else ... and we will use our resources to maintain this ordinance."
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