A proposal to allow backyard chickens in unincorporated Sarasota County could finally hatch later this spring.
The issue has been incubating at the County Commission for almost four years, but it was revived last week at the request of Commissioner Carolyn Mason.
Now the group has asked county planning staff to investigate how, exactly, such a rule might work based on zoning parameters, deed restrictions, existing homeowners associations and enforcement concerns. Another report, in addition to two previous staff reviews, is due back to the commission in early May.
“I do think this needs to be addressed, whether it's a thumbs up or thumbs down,” Commissioner Paul Caragiulo said. “There certainly are very legitimate issues and questions.
“I don't have chickens, I don't plan on having chickens — I eat chicken, a lot of chicken,” he said. “I don't have any personal interest other than my interest as a policy standpoint, but let's advance this discussion.”
The issue of permitting backyard chickens has scrambled county leaders since early 2012, shortly after the city of Sarasota changed its rules to allow residents to keep up to four hens, but no roosters, in a coop on a single-family property.
CLUCK, a local advocacy group that helped craft the city rules, has pushed since to convince the county to adopt a similar stance, but no to avail. Last week, CLUCK founder Jono Miller presented more than 1,200 signatures of a petition supporting backyard chickens to commissioners and asked them to push the issue forward.
“I think we've demonstrated the support is there, this does not need to be a contentious issue,” Miller told commissioners. “If we're looking for a way to solve problems and use the city of Sarasota as a basis to simplify education and enforcement, we can do this in an expeditious manner.”
But commissioners warn that a series of questions remain unanswered, namely about enforcement of the rules and whether homeowners' associations and deed restricted communities would be able to adopt rules limiting chickens in their own communities.
“I have some very serious questions on this issue that I have not been able to get answered,” Commissioner Christine Robinson said. “I can't ignore the financial impact, the neighborhood impact. I'm just not supportive of it.”
Should the county adopt an ordinance, deed restrictions prohibiting backyard chickens would supersede the county rule but enforcement would be up to each community, a county report last year detailed. Another potential problem could be abandoned chickens, because Sarasota County Animal Services does not accept chickens.
Nearby Charlotte, Hillsborough and Lee counties do not allow chickens in single-family residential zones, a county report found. But the dity of Sarasota, Venice, Tampa, Manatee County and Pinellas County each allow them, with restrictions on the number or containment of the chickens per property, the report found.
County planners will consider which zoning districts could be included a rule allowing chickens and report back to the commission on its recommendations, Planning Director Tom Polks said. They will also address questions about enforcement and health.
Depending on commissioners' feelings then, the county could pursue a public hearing for a zoning amendment, he said.
Otherwise, “it's almost the cart before the horse,” Polk said last week.
“Chicken before the egg?” Caraguilo corrected with a smile.