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'Chicken lady' tells county to ignore 'bullies'

Published:   |   Updated: March 7, 2013 at 04:30 PM

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The self-proclaimed "Chicken Lady" of Spring Hill is urging county commissioners not to give in to "bullies" when they meet March 12 to consider a proposed backyard fowl ordinance.

Carol Aquilante fired off a letter to county commissioners Wednesday telling them of her disappointment that a decision on a proposed ordinance had not been agreed on during the previous day's meeting.

The matter has gone on since October, ever since she called planning and zoning staffers to inquire into raising chickens in her home's back yard.

Up to now, Aquilante said her quest has been positive.

However, she said the request has now taken on added dimensions with the involvement this week of the Hernando Builders Association and the Hernando County Association of Realtors.

A representative from both groups spoke against the proposed ordinance Tuesday.

"It has been the reputation in the past for the Hernando County Commissioners to favor the builders over the taxpayers," Aquilante wrote. "It is time for you not to be bullied by this group. Do you not realize that you work for us and not the builders?"

Aquilante said the smell issue associated with chickens seems to be one of the biggest argumentative points in the debate, and she dismisses that concern.

"The only smell you can get is when a homeowner does not do their job in keeping the coop clean and they will forfeit their rights," Aquilante said. "Chickens themselves do not smell as much as this last-minute dealing with the builders and Realtors. It has been proven that chickens do not devalue property."

Aquilante said she also contacted the corporate office of Illinois-based Rural King, a new home and farm store that will soon occupy the long-abandoned Kmart store on U.S. 19 in Spring Hill.

Among other things, the store will stock chicken, horse, cattle and specialty dog food.

"They have been in the paper a lot lately, expecting good sales from their chickens and other related products," Aquilante wrote to board members. "What will you tell them? You can't be on both sides of the fence."

Steve Culp, with the Hernando Builders Association, said he was there Tuesday representing HBA members.

"Nothing against people who raise chickens (but) we have a largely agricultural county," Culp said. "There are plenty of places to (raise chickens)."

Culp said he fears a drop in property values should the ordinance pass.

People, he said, moved into these residential areas "with a certain expectation that they weren't moving into pseudo-farm areas."

Culp said the county would also have a difficult time enforcing the ordinance.

HCAR President Debra Myers said her organization is in "vehement opposition" of the proposed ordinance.

Myers said the county has zoning classifications and a comprehensive growth plan for a reason.

"Why bother having them if we are not going to adhere to them?" Myers asked.

"(We) would be diluting these classifications if we allow chickens on residential lots."

Myers urged commissioners not to supersede existing deed restrictions.

"We can't have chickens running around in gated communities," she said.

Resident Doug Davis cited the U.S. Constitution when addressing county commissioners Tuesday.

"Last time I looked, I think we have the God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," Davis said. "My chickens make me happy."

Davis, who lives in a rural area and has 25 chickens, said "the whole thing is about health and freedom to raise my own food."

Sara Coutu of Spring Hill said this whole matter has taken on a life of its own.

"This is too much craziness over a chicken," Coutu said. "It's gotten completely out of control."

Coutu also discounted the foul smell argument by saying any animal will be have an odor if not kept clean.

And contrary to the prevailing belief, most people in residential subdivisions do not want to keep chickens for the privilege of having fresh eggs.

"It's not about eggs," she said.

Rather, Coutu said the raising of fowl is a hobby for many in the community. Chickens become pets.

Chickens, she said, are less noisy and bothersome than barking dogs and squawking birds.

"The neighbor's pit bull came after me but I have never been chased by a chicken," Coutu said.

The city of Tampa recently approved residents maintain up to five chickens on their property per 5,000 square feet. And yet, the county wants to draft an even more restrictive ordinance, she said.

County Commissioner Wayne Dukes asked that Tuesday's ordinance discussion be tabled while he examined more details, including the Tampa rules and regulations.

Meanwhile, Coutu said, "The chicken dance goes on in residential Spring Hill." (352) 544-5290

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