Misinformation on residential hens threatens the success of legislation

By Lara Patangan
Resident Community News

Hen advocates are pecking through misinformation that threatens the flock of single family homeowners crowing for the right to have backyard hens.
Last month the City of Jacksonville Planning and Development Department denied the recommendation of the draft ordinance 2013-415 which would allow single family homeowners to have up to four backyard hens. Reasons for the denial include noise, loose hens, property values and code enforcement.

Genora Crain-Orth, a Riverside resident who has been involved in the campaign to legalize backyard hens was frustrated with the report’s lack of factual information. “There is not a single reference cited in the planning document.”

Advocates in Sarasota, FL who have been successful getting hens legalized in their city, echoed Crain-Orth’s assessment, criticizing the Planning Department for its lack of sources to support the reasons for the denial. They wrote on their blog site Sarasotacluck.blogspot.com about the denial, lack of citation and even refute some of the concerns cited with information published by the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, D.C.

Lauren Trad, a San Jose resident who started hensinjax.com, a grass roots group trying to change the existing ordinance to legalize backyard hens, was disappointed that the Planning Department did not reach out to the councilman sponsoring the ordinance or to any supporters to “to verify the scope of the report.”

Still, she thinks it’s important to recognize the wide variety of support they have to counter “the same three to four people who speak out against it,” Trad said. “They never seem to have substantiated facts, just misconceptions.”

Trad said they have had a cross-section of different supporters who have spoken in favor of the ordinance including a mother whose child has food allergies, an education expert from the zoo, grandparents whose grandchildren come over to care for their hens, and even a 12-year-old San Marco girl who stood before the City Council asking for its passage.
A 2012 Urban Agriculture Survey conducted by Riverside Avondale Preservation found 91 percent of respondents in favor of residential hen ownership.

One of the bill’s co-sponsors, District 4 Councilman Don Redman, said there is a lot of misinformation about owning hens including the fact that the draft ordinance only refers to female chickens, not their noisy mate, the rooster. Roosters are not included in the draft ordinance.

Still, he is optimistic that that the draft ordinance will pass. It is expected to go in front of the full Council this month. “We are going to have to make some changes to the legislation, but I really think it’s going to pass.”

Changes may include requiring chicken owners to get a permit and take a class on the proper care of chickens. Crain-Orth is also willing to make necessary modifications to move the legislation forward. “We are willing to make changes to the ordinance as it has been drafted,” Crain-Orth said.

District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer’s concern with the draft ordinance is code enforcement. “If a homeowner has a complaint, there is no mechanism in place to document it,” Boyer explained. “Code-compliance can’t enter a fenced yard to investigate a complaint. If people don’t comply, we have to have a way to remedy that.”
Boyer also suggested a pilot program may be the best way to introduce residential hen ownership to quell concerns.

Meanwhile, Trad said they have received letters from other communities within the state “showing that they have had no negative impact to code enforcement or animal control by allowing hens on residential property.”

Countering concerns against the draft ordinance, Redman offers his own personal take. “I was raised on a farm,” Redman said. “A chicken is easier to keep than a cat or dog.”

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