SatBeach council’s approval is coup for backyard chicken owners

Once-controversial backyard chickens in Satellite Beach have passed a year-long evaluation program with hardly a peep of complaints.

The Satellite Beach City Council faced passion and emotion on both sides of the issue in 2016, including more than a dozen residents appearing before the council either to express support for chickens as a sustainable source of food, or to relay concerns that backyard chickens might attract predators and would otherwise negatively impact the character and quality of life for all 10,000 Satellite Beach residents. There was even talk of having the matter on a voter referendum ballot, but that effort did not receive enough council support to proceed.

The one-year pilot program, extended by another year by the City Council Jan. 3, allows up to two backyard hens per residence and comes with permitting and inspection requirements.

The ordinance outlaws having roosters, selling eggs or breeding the chickens.

City Council member Mindy Gibson ran on a pro-backyard chicken platform and has two hens that live in a movable chicken house. Now described as pets, they are allowed to sometimes run free in her family’s fenced back yard.

She and other supporters point out the generally quiet nature of female chickens, the fact that they eat bugs of all types, lessening the need for pesticides, and the positive health aspect of fresh eggs for which you know the source.

During the 2016 debates, City Manager Courtney Barker said she expected the strain on code enforcement to be low after talking to officials from other backyard chicken-friendly Brevard cities.

Cape Canaveral, Melbourne Beach, Melbourne, Rockledge, Titusville, West Melbourne, Malabar and unincorporated Brevard County all allow chicken ownership in varying degrees, according to the data Barker presented then.

And it turns out Barker was right: Only a total of six of the free permits for backyard chickens were taken out in 2016 and 2017. As for complaints, there were a couple of unfounded reports of roosters and the Hurricane Irma-related temporary escapes of two hens.

“They are so quiet and don’t smell bad that many times the neighbors don’t even know they live next to chickens,’’ Barker said.

Barker and Gibson, citing the lack of complaints or problems and the fact that other pets like rabbits don’t have similar rules, suggested that the backyard chickens permitting and ordinance be dropped.

“I don’t think we need a full-blown permitting process for a problem that hasn’t happened,’’ Barker said.

Other members of the council, however, successfully pushed for the rules to stay in place at least another year to make sure backyard chicken coops are placed correctly and that roosters are prohibited.

“This has worked out really good so far and we’ve had very few complaints. I would like to think that all chicken owners are good owners, but if we didn’t have the rules we would have no ability to check them out and make sure it’s done right,’’ said Mayor Frank Catino.

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