City Council passes pilot program for backyard hens

Some neighborhoods opt out of ordinance

By Lara Patangan
Resident Community News

The issue of backyard hens has finally been sent home to roost, as Jacksonville City Council narrowly passed an ordinance last month that will allow a two-year pilot program for 300 homeowners to own up to five hens.

Ordinance 2013-415 passed, but not without last-minute opt-outs by select neighborhoods who asked to be excluded from the legislation.
District 4 Councilman Don Redman, who represents the St. Nicholas neighborhood and was one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said he was happy that the ordinance was approved despite the restrictions.

“It’s more restrictive than what I would have liked and a little more complicated than necessary,” Redman said. “The most disappointing thing I saw was the addition of the opt-out.”
Before going in for the Council vote, there were only four neighborhoods, located in Arlington, that were on the opt-out list and ineligible to participate in the pilot program. As the ordinance was debated prior to the vote, another 15 additional areas were added to the list. Neighborhoods bound by homeowners associations and deed restrictions will not be affected by the legislation.

Neighborhoods included in the opt-out in The Resident’s readership area are Point La Vista off of Old San Jose and Grosvenor Square off of San Jose Boulevard, along with North Riverside, which is described as the areas bordered by Beaver Street to the North, Stockton Street to the East, Interstate 10 to the South and McDuff Avenue to the West.
Redman attributes the bill passing by such a narrow margin of nine to seven votes to the last-minute addition of the opt-outs.

“Up until the vote, [At-Large Councilman] Robin Lumb was the only one against us,” Redman explained.  “I think some of the councilmembers were turned off with the restrictions and didn’t want anything to do with it.”

Lauren Trad, a San Jose resident and founder of Hens in Jax, a grassroots organization lobbying for the right to own backyard hens, said that overall she is happy with the
ordinance.

“I wanted the legislation to be citywide,” Trad explained when talking about the addition of the opt-outs. “But from the beginning I said we had to take baby steps and this is just a part of that.”

Trad questions whether some councilmembers elected neighborhoods for opt-outs “following the loudest voice and not the majority.”
Genora Crain-Orth, a Riverside resident who was active in getting the ordinance passed, agrees that while she is happy with the outcome she is disappointed in the addition of opt-outs as well as the limited number of permits that can be issued.

“While we got the vote in support of hen ownership, there are so many ‘ifs, ands and buts’ about it, that it took some of that victory away,” Crain-Orth explained. “But for someone who’s never been involved in politics to navigate the process, to figure it all out and educate people – from that perspective, it’s a huge victory.”
Redman credits the passing of the pilot program to Trad and Crain-Orth.

“It’s been interesting. We had some hardworking ladies, who were very well-organized and talked to every singe council person,” Redman said. “Nobody gets everything they want, but everybody gets something they want.”

Trad acknowledged that the process was often frustrating. “There were some council members who never returned calls, some of them we called six times. That’s what really upset me was how they distance themselves from the citizens. They are so personally biased. But then there were some councilmembers who were spectacular. I just tried not to get discouraged and do my due diligence.”

Ultimately, Redman thinks that most of the people who want hens have them anyway.

“I can guarantee that you already have 300 families owning hens,” Trad said.  “Now there is the issue of how they are going to get the limited-number of permits.”
The Planning and Development Department has 60 days to create the application for the permit, establish administrative procedures for issuing the permits and collecting the one-time $25 registration fee.

As part of the process, potential hen owners will have to take a chicken-keeping seminar from the Duval County Agricultural Extension Office. If they have taken one in the past, as Trad has, they have to be able to document their attendance, which might be impossible since there is no known recordkeeping of attendees.

In 18 months, the Municipal Code Compliance Division will evaluate the program, along with input from Animal Care and Protective Services and the Planning and Development Department as to the program’s success.

Trad said she is going to do everything she can to get one of those 300 permits to have the chance to own backyard hens once again.
“After that, I am going to lay low. The whole goal of Hens in Jax was to legalize hens. So the next time you see me on the hen-front will be in a year and a half when the report on the pilot program comes out,” Trad said. “Then, we will push for it to go community wide. At the end of that, yeah, I’m done.”

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