The Ocala City Council narrowly approved an ordinance on Tuesday that will allow chickens to be raised on properties designated as single-family homes.
During their bi-weekly meeting, council members split the vote 3-2 in favor of the ordinance, which allows chickens to be raised on properties zoned as R-1, R-1A, and R-1AA (i.e., single family residential).
Council members debated the merits of allowing urban and recreational chickens and spoke of past experiences to lend support.
City council president Mary Rich, whose father raised chickens when she was younger, was adamant about helping one of the families that came forward in support of the ordinance.
“I grew up with chickens. I think chickens are like dogs, they know where they live,” said Rich.
Rich went on to suggest that although the ordinance might not benefit every member of the community, it would help those that came forward and wouldn’t hurt the rest.
“I don’t know that it will help the whole community, but I would feel good if I know that a child is being helped because they have chickens in their yard. They’re not harming me, they’re not harming you. Even if you live next door to them, there’s not going to be any cock-a-doodle-doo,” said Rich, referring to the section of the ordinance that bans roosters and other poultry.
Council member Matthew Wardell agreed with Rich and spoke about his childhood experiences with chickens.
“If you haven’t grown up with chickens or you’re not used to being around chickens, you might think they’re loud, that there’s a lot of odor,” said Wardell. He went on to explain that generally, hens are very quiet and are no louder than the average human voice, and that the ordinance provides recourse if smells should travel across property lines.
“I’m in support of it,” added Wardell.
As part of the ordinance, residents would not be able to house more than six chickens, would not be allowed to keep any male chickens, roosters, or other poultry, and would not be able to slaughter or sell the chickens.
Despite not growing up with chickens like his fellow council members, Justin Grabelle echoed the sentiments of council members Wardell and Rich, citing the need to protect personal property rights.
“For me, the way I look at this issue, it’s about personal property rights in a lot of ways. We purchase the land that we live on, and we have the ability to do on that land, within reason, what we wish,” said Grabelle.
Council member Brent Malever argued that the ordinance in fact was a form of government overreach, citing the longstanding precedent of residents owning chickens within city limits without oversight.
“My problem with the whole thing is, why do we need to change the ordinance we have now? People have chickens within the city now, and we don’t bother them, and they don’t bother us,” said Malever.
Malever went on to suggest that there was no problem, and despite an objection that he was turning a blind eye, decried the need for an ordinance.
“I’m not totally against what we have now. I think we let people have them if they want them. We don’t take the code enforcement and send it out there on people. Why can’t we just leave it like it is,” asked Malever.
Malever pushed to ignore the ordinance and leave things the way they have been, citing cost and management, in addition to health issues.
“I’m not turning a blind eye to it. We’ve done it for the last 25 years. There are chickens out here that we don’t know where they even are. You got to think about what your cost is going to be with the codes, the management, the health issues,” said Malever.
Grabelle suggested that because this was already happening, the need for additional guidance in the form of an ordinance was a necessity.
“This is occurring already within the city limits. What this ordinance does is that it puts conditions and limitations on that, which only help surrounding neighbors,” said Grabelle.
Council member Jay Musleh agreed, citing constituent concerns about chickens within city limits. Musleh suggested that the city would be setting a dangerous precedent that could lead to other types of animals within city limits.
“While I appreciate the people that want the chicken, I appreciate their position, I’ve had a number of people come to me and say that they should not be allowed within city limits,” said Musleh.
Malever went as far as to ask Ocala Police Department Chief Greg Graham about the procedure should one resident steal another’s chickens and questioned the volume of chicken-related calls that the department receives.
“We work at the pleasure of the county. Just like if someone called and said that someone had stolen a dog or a cat, we would take a report. We would respond and investigate just like we would with any call” said Chief Graham. Graham indicated that he wasn’t sure if the police department had responded to any chicken calls.
The ordinance was originally recommended to the city council for approval by the Planning and Zoning Board on May 13. The first reading of the ordinance came during the June 4 meeting of the city council. Malever, who claimed he had never seen the ordinance before, finished his comments by asking that a workshop be hosted before a vote.
Instead, council members voted to approve a minor amendment to the ordinance before approving the ordinance with the amendment.
Once it is incorporated into the city’s municipal code of ordinances, there will be a long list of criteria that must be followed in order to be in compliance.