SLC Commissioner Chris Dzadovsky brokers deal with Sunland Gardens to help eliminate chickens on the run

FORT PIERCE – In order to win the support of the Sunland Gardens homeowners in District 1 on the proposed backyard chicken ordinance, St. Lucie County Commissioner Chris Dzadovsky had to first convince his fellow commissioners to address the wayward fowl that have already flown the coop in that neighborhood. With that deal successfully brokered between staff and the Commission majority, the Board voted 4-1 Oct. 6 to approve the Backyard Chicken Ordinance.

The Commission failed to reach a consensus held during two previous discussions in September, ultimately tabling the debate until the latest meeting so staff had time to speak with Fort Piece officials on that city’s ordinance and to consider potentially exempting Sunland Gardens due to that area’s long-term issues free-roaming fowl. Most of the Board also objected to the $25 registration fee originally proposed by staff, which has since been eliminated. During her presentation that evening, Building & Code Regulation Manager Monica Graziani described the additional public outreach effort made during the interim.

“We mailed over 3,300 surveys to properties within District 1,” she said. “We provided two questions and had a 5 percent return. Eighty-two percent of those surveyed supported the ordinance, [while] 17 percent were against it.”

Ms. Graziani didn’t go into the specific requirements of the ordinance that day but in previous discussions had detailed the minimum setback and coop requirements and the prohibition on roosters and free-ranging hens. Backyard chicken lovers would be allowed a maximum of five hens that would require constant supervision if allowed outside of the enclosed coop area.

Commissioner Dzadovsky had previously refused his backing due to the many complaints of District 1 residents but now offered his tentative support conditioned on both the educational outreach component and staff’s commitment to address the current cage-free chickens tormenting Sunland Gardens.

“The registration would give an opportunity for us to transition with an education component,” he said as he described his constituents’ requests. “One of the things that was encouraged was door-hangers to explain what the ordinance is and that free-range chickens will not be allowed. And that we make a concerted effort to remove all the feral or free-range chickens from the community and find some level of funding for Animal Control or even a contractor to go out and get these free-range chickens.”

Since the September hearings, Commissioner Dzadovsky, Ms. Graziani and other staff members met with the complaining residents, and the District 1 commissioner now believes they have a neighborhood consensus.

“I think they believe if we have an ordinance in place and these provisions are available, that they’ll actually finally see a solution to the feral chickens that are running loose and causing some havoc in their community,” he said.

Avenue G homeowner Michael Aliotta had previously addressed the Board during the Sept. 25 hearing and returned during the latest meeting to opine on the ordinance he fears may not really provide him relief from the fowl-induced agony he said he’s endured for 17 years.

“I don’t want to be a fly in the ointment to people having hens, but I see nothing in it that’s really going to address people not complying with the ordinance,” he said. “There’s nothing to identify who might own these chickens if they get loose. There’s no tags, no branding, no chips in them to identify that they came from this [particular] person. You can’t really prosecute people because you can’t prove that they’re actually responsible for the loose chickens.”

Mr. Aliotta also worried that backyard chicken coops destroyed in storms might not be replaced without direct oversight and lead to more uncontrollable fowl.

“I don’t see the ordinance as doing anything except being a license to have whatever you want in your yard,” he said.

Mr. Aliotta’s neighbor, Anita Jackson, also had questions for the Commission, particularly since she’d heard Sunland Gardens could be potentially exempted from the ordinance.

“My understanding is Sunland Gardens would not be included in this ordinance, and those who would be allowed – Lakewood Park, Indian River Estates and White City – would be able to have the chickens,” she said. “Am I correct?”

Chairwoman Cathy Townsend told her, however, that proposal was just one of the options presented that evening by staff, none of which had yet been decided on.

“One of the suggestions staff has recommended is to just only have it in those three neighborhoods, so that’s just another recommendation,” she explained. “You would be excluded if we chose those three specifically. If we said countywide, then you would be included.”

When Ms. Jackson wanted to know if the county would remove the feral fowl from her neighborhood as part of this ordinance approval, Commissioner Dzadovsky placed the responsibility squarely in the lap of his fellow commissioners.

“That’s my goal for this whole process, and I’d like the support of the Board if we moved it forward,” he said. “I threw an olive branch out there: If we do this, please help me help this neighborhood with these free-range chickens.”

At least three people spoke in favor of a countywide backyard chicken ordinance that evening, including Indian River Estates homeowner Ken Waters.

“I have neighbors that have chickens, and as far as neighbors go, they are very good neighbors,” he said. “To me they seem like reasonable pets, and I think it would be perfectly reasonable to have this as an ordinance to bring some people into being legal for a change.”

One of his neighbors, Forest Blanton, believes the new ordinance might also help mitigate the chickens ruling the roost in other neighborhoods.

“I think this is a reasonable ordinance, it’s got a fair number of controls associated with it, and I think it would be a nice benefit for folks to have,” he said. “In fact, the discussion I’ve heard, a little clarity about how the chickens should be managed and where they’re kept would actually help the situation in those areas that seem to be having this issue. I personally think it should be countywide.”

Commissioner Sean Mitchell subsequently made the motion for the countywide approval while asking Ms. Graziani to help the Sunland Gardens residents.

“I believe Monica we do need to address that and to make sure that these feral animals are picked up, but I certainly don’t want to hurt the people and the young children that I think would benefit from this,” he said.

Commissioner Linda Bartz, who cast the lone dissenting vote that day, expressed her ongoing opposition due to potential conflicts near Port St. Lucie, which doesn’t allow backyard hens. Even though the ordinance exempts North River Shores, that wasn’t enough to alleviate her concerns.

“We have pockets of the county sitting in Port St. Lucie where there is an ordinance against the chickens,” she said. “So that is the only argument I have.”

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