Clearwater takes first step to allow backyard chickens

CLEARWATER — Most residents in Pinellas County have been allowed to own backyard chickens for years — unless they had a Clearwater address.

Chicken-loving residents brought the disparity to the city’s attention earlier this year. On Thursday the City Council gave first approval to an ordinance that will allow Clearwater residents in single-family homes to keep up to four backyard chickens with a coop and run.

The new rule will be burdened largely governed by the honor system and enforced through complaints, since the council chose to not further planning staff by requiring permits. Permits are also not required with the backyard chicken rules in Gulfport, Largo, Dunedin, St. Petersburg and unincorporated Pinellas County.

“Just understand we can always repeal an ordinance, and that’s not a threat, that’s an encouragement to those people who want to have the chickens to be good neighbors,” Mayor Frank Hibbard said. “If it becomes an issue where we’re utilizing a lot of resources to regulate this and we’ve got a lot of people that aren’t taking care of the animals and being respectful of their neighbors, I’ll be the first one to bring this back up and repeal the ordinance.”

The council voted 4-1 on the backyard chicken ordinance with council member Hoyt Hamilton in opposition. Hamilton said he supported the concept but not without a permitting process to ensure proper coop size, setbacks and conditions. The council is scheduled to take a final vote on the ordinance Oct. 7.

Phillip O’Neil bought his first home in Clearwater last year and was surprised to learn he wasn’t allowed to have chickens of his own. He grew up in rural Indiana and loved the fresh eggs and companionship he got from the chickens on his family’s farms.

“When you have chickens you have to get up early to let them out of the coop into the run and then collect eggs,” O’Neil wrote in an email to city officials in May. “In the evening you have to make sure they are secure in the coop. There is a rhythm they provide.”

He and neighbors networked in a private Facebook group for Clearwater chicken advocates, now with 52 members, and pushed city officials to consider the benefits.

“I’ve had a small flock of hens my whole life and this is the first place that I have lived that these great birds have not been allowed,” David Bray wrote to the city in May. “If regulated properly they are not loud or dirty as many people think.”

Assistant City Attorney Matthew Mytych said he based the city’s ordinance on Pinellas County’s, including its prohibition of roosters, and created it through consulting other cities’ staff of their experiences. Mytych said staff in St. Petersburg, which allows up to 10 chickens, receives about two noise complaints per week.

In Dunedin, the city has received five complaints in the last five years for noise and smell, Mytch said.

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Tarpon Springs has processed 20 backyard chicken permits since 2017, according to research and information officer Judy Staley. In that time, the city has received 19 complaints related to the ordinance, she said.

“Everybody be a good neighbor,” Clearwater council member David Allbritton said. “Just be cognizant of what you’re doing.”

With the passage, O’Neal said he plans to get bantam Cochins, which are known to be docile and quiet and weigh about a pound and a half each. He said four hens will provide two dozen eggs a week, although he will consider them as pets that “will be spoiled rotten.”

“This is very exciting for those of us who believe in sustainability, independence or just want healthy eggs to eat,” he said.

The proposed ordinance includes these rules:

  • Up to four chickens would be allowed for detached dwellings. Ducks, geese, turkeys, peafowl and roosters would not be allowed.
  • A chicken coop would have to be covered, screened and ventilated and secured from predators. It would need to include a run with proper setbacks and be in the backyard or in the side yard of a corner lot.
  • The chicken coop would be required to have a minimum area of ​​3 square feet per chicken. The chicken run would need to have a minimum area of ​​8 square feet per chicken to ensure that the living area allows for free movement of the animal.
  • Chickens would be for personal use. Residents could only sell eggs if they got permits for a home-based business. Chickens could not be slaughtered on the premises.
  • The city would require coops and runs to be maintained in a clean and sanitary condition at all times. All manure not used for composting or fertilizer would need to be removed. Chickens could not create a nuisance for odor, noise or pests.

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