MANATEE -- Those seeking to legalize backyard chicken coops Tuesday were celebrating after the Manatee County Commission agreed to consider the matter at its next public meeting.
Lea Etchells argued that hens could be kept inconspicuously in a backyard in a residential neighborhood, noting there was no evidence it would decrease property values in unincorporated areas of the county.
"Urban chicken-keeping is actually a property rights issue -- we should have as much freedom as possible," she said during a workshop session at County Administrative Center.
Several county commissioners agreed, and the board decided to take the matter up more formally at 10 a.m. Tuesday, during its regular county commission meeting.
"I think this is a fairness issue to the citizens," said Commissioner Michael Gallen. "They should have a right to produce their own eggs."
County staff members preferred to keep county rules the way they are: Currently, dooryard chickens are prohibited.
"Most folks who live in a residential neighborhood bought there, and didn't expect to have chickens next door," said Kathleen Thompson, a county planning manager.
Among the concerns she cited were: Odors, noise,
rodents, coyotes, health issues, manure and cleanliness of the coops, and how to address any complaints, she said.
Still, if the commission wanted to proceed, it could set typical standards, such as outlawing roosters, limiting chickens to single-family areas, minimum setbacks from neighbors, and rodent-proof feeding containers, Thompson said.
"This is no big deal," said Don Gassie, who recalled that, during World War II, the U.S. government asked people to raise chickens in their yards, so there would be more food to send overseas.
"Just let people do it, and most people will get tired of it really quick," he said.
Although about a dozen speakers supported a change in county policy, one was opposed.
Larry Brown said he had raised chickens in an agricultural city, but contended they stunk, carried lice and other diseases, and attracted nuisances like snakes, rats and coyotes.
"Keep farm animals in an agricultural setting, not in residential," he said.
The cities of Sarasota and Palmetto both allow it, under certain circumstances.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.