City Council lobbied to act on zoning code

Backyard hen houses on the docket

By Lara Patangan
Resident Community News

Hen advocates are working with City Council members Doyle Carter (District 12) and Don Redman (District 4) to hatch legislation that would legalize backyard hens in most Duval County residential areas.

Draft legislation was presented at a May 14 meeting to amend section 656.401 of the Zoning Code, which currently only allows chickens in agricultural and rural residential districts.
The new legislation would permit up to eight hens on properties that are one acre or less and zoned residential low density, which are essentially most single-family homes. The legislation only applies to hens, not roosters, and would require homeowners to provide a shelter for the poultry.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said Councilman Redman. “I don’t see any harm in it. You don’t need a rooster to lay eggs. It’s an opportunity to educate children on farm life. There are more reasons for it than against it.”

Lauren Trad, a San Jose resident who started hensinjax.com two years ago, a grass-roots group trying to change the existing ordinance to legalize backyard hens, collected more than 2,000 signatures from supporters.

According to Trad, there are plenty of people who already have what are referred to as undocumented hens.
“I know people in every part of town that keep chickens illegally right now,” Trad said.  “There is a real demand for this.”
Trad had her own backyard hens for year and half and until a neighbor reported her. “I got a citation that said I had 10 days to remove them or I would be fined $250 per day,” Trad said.
To comply, she sent the hens to live at the family garden center. “The kids were upset,” Trad explained. “They were part of the family, just like a dog or cat. We loved them.”
An Old Ortega resident has had her chick Loocie for seven years and said there are many other Ortega and Avondale families who also keep chickens. “The illegality of keeping chicks is just another one of those silly laws that people break precisely because it is silly, as well as virtually unenforceable,” said Loocie’s owner, who prefers to remain anonymous.
She also thinks that chickens make great pets and are highly instructive for children. “Send a kid out to the coop to bring in a fresh egg and they get a real sense of where their food comes from,” Loocie’s owner said.

An Avondale resident and naval officer, who also prefers to remain anonymous, has six chickens and also sees the value of owning hens for his three children.
“My son feeds them every morning. We eat their eggs and are about to build a garden box so we can use the fertilizer they produce.” He thinks it’s good for his kids to see where their food comes from. “People don’t realize that eggs don’t magically appear. I had a young female sailor who grew up in New York City, and she really didn’t know that eggs came from chickens.”

District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer said she has not received any negative comments from people in her district about the possibility of legalizing backyard hens. She said all of the nuisance provisions such as noise and odors would still apply with this legislation. “What it does is make it legal for people to keep them who do it responsibly,” Boyer said.
“I truly believe in the benefit of a flock of backyard hens,” said Trad. There is a symbiotic relationship between hens in your garden and your home.”
The old adage to not count your chickens before they hatch applies here. “The most important thing is to write or email city council members,” Trad emphasized. “They need to know where citizens stand so they understand the demand for backyard hens.”

Visit www.hensinjax.com or on Facebook to follow the outcome of the proposed legislation.

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