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Backyard chicken ordinance fails

By MELISSA BILL - | Jan 6, 2021

news@breezenewspapers.com

A proposed ordinance to allow for backyard chickens in residential areas of unincorporated Lee County including Lehigh Acres, failed to pass county muster, meaning there will be no backyard chickens allowed in Lehigh in the new year — or at least for now.

The Lee County Board of County Commissioners rejected the measure 3-2.

County Chairman Kevin Ruane and Commissioners Cecil Pendergrass and Ray Sandelli voted against directing the LDC Amendment on backyard chickens to a public hearing, reversing a process that was previously set in motion to allow for the chickens. Commissioners Brian Hamman and Frank Mann supported moving forward with the public hearing process.

A few of the stipulations written in the LDC’s proposed backyard chicken ordinance included: chickens would have had to have been to be contained in a coop with location, size and setback limitations, with no more than four hens per lot, under one acre and six hens per lot, per one acre or larger.

Lehigh residents in favor of having the opportunity to raise backyard chickens’ were disappointed that county commissioners didn’t allow the LDC amendment to go to a public hearing.

“I hope that we can in some way or form get an ordinance passed in the future on the option of having backyard chickens or push it to a county-wide vote. In the state of Florida, Lee County is one of only a few to not allow chicken ordinances of some sort,” 2nd Vice President of the Lehigh Community Council Tyler Woodby said after the measure failed.

Presently residents in certain parts of Lee County including the city of Bonita Springs and the city of Fort Myers can apply for a permit to raise backyard chickens, with provisions. The maximum number of hens is four on a single-family home property. The coop must be 20 feet from the closest neighbor.

Opponents of the ordinance have also made their voices heard since the commission, last June, directed staff to draft an amendment the Land Development Code that would allow the keeping and raising of chickens in residential areas in Lehigh Acres.

Lehigh Acres Community Neighbor-hood Watch President Steve McGiffin was one of those relieved by the decision.

“I’m very happy that it didn’t pass. I was against the whole chicken idea in the first place. Not because this group of people wouldn’t have done a great job taking care of their chickens. It’s other people besides them that don’t have any responsibility or know how to properly take care for the chickens and keep them fenced in. Plus take care of all the other little things that happen when you have chickens such as mice, snakes and fecal matters all over of the place,” McGiffin said.

The ordinance also had to go through a review process by three separate committees before moving to the BoCC for a vote. The Land Development Board Advisory Committee and the Executive Regulatory Oversight Committee recommended that the board not adopt the amendment following a review, and the Local Planning Agency found the amendment inconsistent with the Lee Plan on October 26, 2020.

Some residents in favor of the backyard chicken ordinance felt that the review committees selected might have had a biased view.

“These committees are comprised of developers and large real estate executives, not the residents of Lehigh. I think that local business owners and residents should have had a part in making this decision for the community,” Woodby said.

The proposed Land Development Code amendment formerly under consideration by the BoCC reads as follows:

• The ordinance would allow the keeping and raising of chickens in certain residential areas for personal use only.

• Not supersede HOA regulations or deed restrictions where those exist.

• Chickens would be limited to hens, with no more than four chickens per lot under one acre and six chickens per lot one acre or larger.

• Sale of chicken eggs or slaughtering on premises would not be permitted.

• The chickens would need to be contained in a coop located in the rear yard, with size and setback limitations and visual screening requirements.

The proposed amendment also contained requirements for obtaining a permit, including proof of completion of a class through the University of Florida agricultural extension service on the proper care of chickens.