TAMPA — Chickens are now legal backyard pets in Tampa. But what happens if they get loose?
City council members will revisit the issue of chickens at a workshop on Tuesday when they discuss exempting them from the city's bird sanctuary ordinance.
All of Tampa is a bird sanctuary, so a free-roaming chicken is protected just like a songbird, a vulture or even a peacock.
“We cannot molest, move, alter anything with a bird roaming free,” zoning administrator Cathy Coyle told the Tampa City Council in June, when council members first voted on whether to list chickens as pets instead of livestock.
The same sanctuary ordinance protects hens and roosters that lend character to Ybor City.
The sanctuary rules, last revised in 1989, say that no one can “kill, maim or trap or otherwise molest” birds except ones “raised in captivity for human consumption.”
Because backyard chickens are for eggs, not for eating, they fall under the sanctuary ordinance as it's now written, city officials say.
“If we can put some language in there where they can round chickens up and get rid of them, I'll be happy,” Councilman Frank Reddick said.
An exemption is part of the broader question of how to enforce the new rule on chickens, said Councilman Mike Suarez.
“I don't think there's necessarily a good plan for how to do it,” Suarez said Wednesday.
Suarez and Reddick were the lone dissenters in the council's 5-2 vote in favor of allowing backyard chickens.
Ideally, enforcing the chicken rules will fall to the city's code enforcement inspectors, now housed in the Neighborhood Empowerment Department.
Suarez said those inspectors are already loaded down with other issues, such as Mayor Bob Buckhorn's campaign to get property owners to abide by the city's housing standards.
“There's already too much for them to handle,” Suarez said.
Council members passed an ordinance this summer letting city residents keep backyard chickens — hens only, no roosters.
Supporters of the movement, which has taken root in urban area across the country as well as in some Florida cities, argued the chickens provide healthy eggs and teach children where their food comes from.
Opponents countered the birds belong in rural areas. Reddick warned they could become a source of conflict among neighbors if they get loose and wind up in other people's yards.
In some parts of Tampa, backyard chickens have been a fact of life for years despite a 200-foot setback requirement that made them illegal on most of the city's residential lots.
The new rules, which took effect Aug. 1, did away with that distance requirement. It also limits owners to one bird per 1,000 square feet of lot space, forces owners to install a coop for their birds, and mandates that chickens stay in a fenced yard.
Council Chairman Charlie Miranda warned the council in June that if the ordinance proves too difficult to enforce, he'll bring it back for reconsideration.
“I'm never going to enforce a law that's unenforceable,” Miranda said.