110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Pat Andrews
posted Dec 21, 2012 - 10:01:30am
J.J. has his chickens, and just about everything his parents, Ashleigh and Joseph Hart, wanted.
DeBary’s new “Chicken Pilot Ordinance,” inspired by the youngster’s plight, was enacted by unanimous vote during the Dec. 5 DeBary City Council meeting.
J.J.’s family said caring for and interacting with the chickens is therapeutic for the 2-year-old, who has autism. But keeping six chickens in the yard was a violation of city codes.
The DeBary City Council proposed a temporary ordinance that will be in effect for a year, to try out the idea of allowing backyard chickens on residential properties. The trial ordinance will allow seven occupants of single-family homes in residentially zoned areas to keep three female chickens each.
“J.J. currently has six,” said attorney Mark Nation, who represents the Harts. Nation called DeBary’s three-chicken limit “arbitrary.”
Nation asked the council to increase the allowed number to 10, pointing out that a number of cities allow more hens in residential areas. Miami allows up to 15 chickens, Gulfport and Levy County allow up to 10, and some jurisdictions, including Lakeland and Dunedin, have no limits.
Council Member Dan Hunt said he had no problem increasing the number. After a lengthy discussion, he made a motion to allow six chickens. The motion died for lack of a second.
The council also declined to make the ordinance permanent. They voted to stay with a one-year pilot program, and to revisit the ordinance at the end of 2013.
The council granted Nation’s other requests, however:
• Nation asked that the ordinance be amended to allow chickens out in a fenced backyard when an owner is there to watch them. The ordinance had stated chickens had to be kept inside a coop or enclosure around the coop at all times.
• Instead of getting the OK from neighbors within 200 feet of the property before a permit to keep chickens is granted, the ordinance now requires only that the neighbors be notified. The city manager can decide if there are enough valid concerns to deny the permit.
The hearing wasn’t without rancor.
Ashleigh Hart addressed the council during public comments.
She said that when the Harts went before DeBary code enforcement this fall, they were found in violation of a “definition” only. That was a definition of what is “agricultural.”
J.J.’s chickens are for therapeutic purposes, not agricultural purposes, the Harts have maintained, saying that keeping them has made a big difference to him.
Ashleigh Hart told Council Member Nick Koval he is in violation of city ordinances because he has a fruit tree in his front yard, and that could be considered “agricultural.”
Koval said he doesn’t have a fruit tree in his yard.
Ordinances do not prohibit residents from having fruit trees in their yards.
Ashleigh Hart said, “You still don’t listen .. I hope you’ll listen tonight ... that’s my point.”
Resident Wayne Dupree reminded the council, “You were voted in by us.”
He asked City Council members to “think about it and do the right thing.”
Resident Mort Culligan said no permit should be required to keep chickens.
During his discussion with council members, Nation said that, one way or another, J.J. will keep his six chickens.
After the meeting, Nation declined to comment on what action he would take to ensure that all six chickens can stay at the Hart home. That would depend on his clients’ wishes, Nation said.
The Beacon was unable to contact him for further comment Dec. 17.
On Dec.17, City Manager Dan Parrott said Ashleigh Hart was working on the permit application. As soon as that has been received, Parrott said, the city’s code-enforcement action against the Harts will be dropped.
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