Chickens won’t be allowed to roost in Clearwater

— A petition drive to permit city residents to house live poultry in their backyards has laid an egg.

City Councilman Bill Jonson said during a Monday work session that he doesn’t support the idea. However, he raised it for discussion after the council took no action on a request from Erin Bennett of Thames Street, who twice appeared before the board asking that the city code be amended to allow chickens in backyards. She also submitted a petition signed by 1,000 residents supporting the code change.

“While we have received correspondence on both sides of the issue,” Jonson said, “I’m not pushing for a change.” Instead, he asked how to procedurally respond to Bennett’s request.

Mayor George Cretekos said the topic was dead because no city council member motioned to support the proposal and authorize city staff to draft an ordinance.

“Unless some interest is shown by council to draft an ordinance, then the answer is we are not going to,” the mayor said.

In researching the issue, Jonson said, he learned that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that backyard poultry carries with it the dangers of infection and germs like salmonella.

Therefore, “I would not make a motion to change our code at this time,” he said.

In recent years, backyard chickens have become popular among city dwellers concerned about the safety of the food sold in grocery stores. From Maine to California, municipalities large and small have yielded to the call to treat chickens as pets.

Locally, the birds are allowed in Dunedin, Largo, Gulfport, St. Petersburg, Tarpon Springs and unincorporated Pinellas.

And last summer, the Tampa City Council approved an ordinance reclassifying chickens as pets instead of livestock, putting them on equal footing with dogs, cats and goldfish in the eyes of the law.

Clearwater Councilman Hoyt Hamilton said he recently learned hens will lay eggs only for about two years. “At the end of that two-year period, what do you do with that chicken? Just let them roam the yard?” he asked.

Some national news reports indicate that despite visions of quaint coops, happy birds and cheap eggs, the growing trend of raising backyard chickens is backfiring as city dwellers dump unwanted fowl on animal shelters and sanctuaries after discovering that hens can live for a decade and that keeping them can be noisy, messy, labor-intensive and expensive.

Hamilton also said that while the county allows backyard chickens, he understands that conflict among neighbors is rising because of cackling and unpleasant odors.

“In my neighborhood, I don’t think anyone wants chickens in their neighbor’s backyard,” he said.

Councilwoman Doreen Hock-DiPolito said she realizes the idea “is gaining popularity. It’s a crazy, unique thing that people want to have their own chickens for eggs. Several people you wouldn’t expect have chicken coops in their backyard. But my neighborhood wouldn’t want it, either.”

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