SPRING HILL - For several months, chickens were a major issue in Hernando County.
Crowds of people lined up at county commission meetings pleading for the right to raise chickens in their residentially zoned homes in Spring Hill. Other areas of Florida, they said, were doing it, so why wasn't Hernando County jumping on the fowl fad?
After much debate and staff input, county commissioners on March 12 voted 3-2 to pass such an ordinance.
Since then, a grand total of four people have applied for a permit.
That surprises Christopher Linsbeck, the county's zoning supervisor-administrative official, who wonders if the regulations that came with the ordinance may play a role.
For one thing, residents must plunk down $125 for the permit, which lasts five years. That makes it somewhat cost-prohibitive for those who want to save money on grocery prices, he said.
The ordinance calls for a thorough review of people's coop design. The code enforcement officer must visit the site to make sure everything is in compliance with size specifications. The minimum lot size for housing chickens must be 10,000 square feet and the coop must be in the backyard, fenced and not visible from the road.
"It wasn't just a blanket, 'Now we can have chickens in a residential area,'?" Linsbeck said. "It had some pretty stringent requirements."
Linsbeck said he has no way of knowing whether people may be operating chicken coops without a permit.
The ordinance regulations and permit rules apply only to people who live in residentially zoned areas. If they have property zoned residential-agricultural, they are exempt.
The four people who applied and got their permits are: Carol Aquilante, of 5505 Piedmont Drive; Edward Katroscik, of 6329 Jacqueline Arbor Drive; Alfred Goff, of 24348 Casey Road; and Roger Picard Jr., of 496 Tryon Circle.
Aquilante led the charge in pressing commissioners to approve the ordinance.
That led to public hearings, some of which got contentious as critics voiced concerns of falling property values, smells and a violation of deed restrictions.
Supporters said they wanted fresh eggs and the ability to keep pets.
Finally, commissioners approved the ordinance with a host of stipulations, limiting the number of chickens to four with no roosters allowed.
Aquilante paid her permit fee and built the coop herself, which she has since repainted off-white to match her home.
The coop is about 3 feet by 4 feet wide and 3.5 tall with a nesting box on the front where the hens can lay their eggs.
Aquilante said she has little doubt that people are bypassing the law and raising backyard chickens. That doesn't bother her, she said, because she can't control others' actions. She doesn't think it's that big of a deal and wouldn't turn anyone in who is not following the ordinance and paying the permit fee.
"If that's what they want to do, that's their business," Aquilante said. "I had to pay the price because I wanted the law changed and I wanted them legally."
"This isn't drugs, it's chickens," she added.
Aquilante said she fought the fowl fight to get fresh eggs and to treat her chickens more humanely.
She even rigged up a system where the chickens can drink fresh pool water and not have to stand in their own waste.
"They're not all crammed in a cage," she said. "They have a nice decent life."