Chicken ordinance may have been passed in haste

Avondale man in three-year battle over loose chickens

Three months after the Jacksonville City Council passed an ordinance expanding a backyard hen pilot program, the City now finds itself moving quickly to establish a protocol for dealing with residents’ complaints about nuisance chickens and roosters.

In July, The Resident reported on the Jacksonville City Council’s passage of Ordinance 2015-0337 with an 18-0 vote. The new ordinance expanded the backyard hen “pilot program” that originally was limited to 300 permit holders. Since that story was published, some residents have voiced their concerns that the City might have passed the legislation too quickly and without taking into account some of the problems that had already been caused by backyard flocks in neighborhoods.

Tenants move out, leaving hens behind

Avondale resident Kevin Johnson knows all too well how important it is for the City to have a way to deal with nuisance hens and roosters. Johnson said he battled with the City over nuisance chickens during a three-year ordeal in his neighborhood near FSCJ’s Kent Campus.

Even before Jacksonville’s backyard hen pilot program came into focus, Johnson began his fight with the City of Jacksonville over loose hens and roosters running through his neighborhood. A rental home around the corner from Johnson’s house had tenants who moved out and left their flock of hens and a rooster behind. Soon, the birds began to multiply wreaking havoc on neighborhood cats, dogs and landing on residents’ cars, explained Johnson.

“This went on for three years,” said Johnson who made several calls to the ACPS, City Council members as well as former Mayor Alvin Brown’s office.

Johnson said he was told by the various City departments they don’t handle birds and he could hire a trapper to round up the loose chickens. He said the City also cited they could not enter onto someone’s property without permission to round up the loose birds as a reason they could not assist him.

“I was told ‘this is not our problem and we don’t deal with that type of issue’ by several people with the City,” said Johnson. “Every time I called a City department, the calls did not have any place to go, because no one is set up to handle this,” explained Johnson, who said at one point, he was asked by city personnel, “Can’t you just shoot the birds?”

“I have no qualms at all about people having hens as long as everyone does it right,” he said.

Chicken round-up

After a meeting with District 14 Councilman Jim Love, things slowly started to happen, said Johnson, who is still not happy with the way he was treated by the City.

“I will say that Mr. Love was the only one that would listen to me,” said Johnson.

Love said he purchased some cages and gathered several volunteers to go out into Johnson’s neighborhood early one morning to trap the birds. Johnson claimed they captured only three of the nuisance birds.

Nikki Harris, Division Chief for Jacksonville’s Animal Care and Protective Services (ACPS) said among those volunteers were about 10 officers from her department who also continued to trap the chickens for several weeks.

“I have not heard any more complaints about the loose chickens,” said Love who explained these “outlaw chickens” as he calls them, were an issue way before the recent backyard hen ordinance was even passed.

“If people follow the rules, there should not be a problem,” said Love. “I feel the mandatory educational class is an important part of the program.”

Johnson dismayed over hen expansion

Johnson said he never attended the public hearings prior to the City Council’s vote on Ordinance 2015-0337 in June. Johnson said he did, however, contact City Council members prior to the vote to voice his concerns.

“I contacted six council members before the second vote,” said Johnson. “The feedback I got, was that it would not pass.”

Even though the loose chickens from Johnson’s neighborhood were rounded up, he said the issue opened his eyes to the City’s politics.

“What I uncovered as a private citizen throughout this [process] is unbelievable,” said Johnson. “You can’t just say you will write a whole new ordinance unless you can keep up with it – and where is the money coming from to monitor this process? I still don’t know, there are a lot of unanswered questions,” said Johnson.

“There was such an overwhelming group of people in favor of this [ordinance], that is why we passed it,” said Love, who pointed out that the ordinance does have guidelines and rules. “We tried to pass a bill that covered the issues opponents were addressing,” he said.

The City is now in the process of developing a system for complaints, according to Harris, who said her department must direct its limited resources towards urgent calls for things such as animal attacks.

“Animal Care and Protective Services is responsible for handling dog- and cat-related calls for the City of Jacksonville,” said Harris. “Animal code enforcement prioritizes many types of calls received by the City and gives high priority to requests for assistance, such as animals in distress, dog and cat bites and suspected animal cruelty,” she said.

Backyard hen group offers assistance

Harris said she is working with Genora Crain-Orth, founder of River City Chicks, a local 501(c)(3) organization, who was instrumental in fighting to establish the backyard hen program in Jacksonville, to come up with a solution for nuisance chicken complaints.

“While catching loose chickens is not currently in ACPS’ purview, we hope to develop a plan, in cooperation with River City Chicks, to address related concerns in Jacksonville,” said Harris.

For now, Harris said residents who have an issue with loose chickens in their neighborhood can call 630-CITY to report the problem. Crain-Orth said River City Chicks is willing to work with the City to assist residents who have an issue with nuisance chickens.

“In the past, River City Chicks has helped neighbors trap unwanted chickens in a few neighborhoods around town,” said Crain-Orth, of Riverside. “While we’re willing to partner with ACPS, most of the feral flocks around town have been there for some time and are not the result of the ordinance approved in 2013 and finalized in 2015. Neighbors in those parts of town are pretty evenly divided between those that want the feral flocks and those that don’t,” explained Crain-Orth.

“The easiest way to trap a chicken is to find out where they roost [sleep] at night and pick them up after dark,” said Crain-Orth. “Other options are humane traps baited with stale white bread, if the chickens are hungry enough. You can also take them to Standard Feed and turn them over, hen or rooster,” said Crain-Orth.

According to a Jacksonville Municipal Code Compliance Division report which came out prior to the June City Council vote and the expansion of the backyard hen pilot program, ACPS reported 28 “chicken complaints” in 2013 with about a 25 percent increase in complaints in 2014. However, none of the complaints resulted in citation or enforcement action, according to the report.

Councilman Love said that he thinks the City can equip ACPS with the resources to deal with nuisance chickens running loose.

“The budget is getting a little stronger,” said Love. “I think we can help animal control pick this up. The question is, how bad of a problem will it be? If we have to go out every day and round up loose chickens, then maybe we need to look at the law again,” said Love. “If people do it right and follow the rules, it won’t be a big deal,” he said.

By Marian Johns
Resident Community News

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