The decision by the Leesburg City Commission to allow chickens in residential areas might seem inconsequential in the Pantheon of public policy i ssues, but it is has serious implications for those who live in many area neighborhoods.
By a 3-2 vote, the commission decided to allow residents to raise up to 15 chickens in their backyards. The chickens are to be kept in hen houses or chicken coops no less than 3 square feet per bird and up to a maximum of 50 square feet. A coop cannot be closer than 20 feet to any adjacent, occupied residence.
Commissioners David Knowles, Bill Polk and Mayor John Christian voted in favor of the measure last Monday night, while Commissioners Jay Hurley and Elise Dennison voted against it before a packed crowd of 80 people in the commission chambers.
There are excellent arguments to be made for and against this ordinance. On the pro side, it could be argued that chickens are no noisier or dirtier than a couple of barking dogs.
On the con side, you could argue that 15 chickens is an awful lot of farm animals to allow in subdivisions featuring quarter-acre lots, where neighbors share close quarters.
Commissioner Hurley correctly noted that the ordinance could affect the quality of life of some residents and wondered whether the Commission was setting the limit too high at 15 chickens.
We have to wonder, as well.
Some will, and have, noted that Lake County has a rich agricultural legacy, and that it is laudable for people to want to continue those traditions and raise their own food. But wrapping arguments in the warm blanket of nostalgia ignores the fact that much of the community is no longer rural. Animals can coexist fine with people in urban and suburban neighborhoods, provided there are rules in place to assure your right to enjoyment of your property is not infringed by your neighbor’s right to keep animals and raise food.
It requires a balancing act, and the City Commission — wittingly or unwittingly — has now assumed the responsibility for providing the balance.
For this to work, it will require two things.
First, the commission must assure that those who opt to keep chickens under the new ordinance follow the rules for coop size and security, cleanliness and setbacks from neighboring properties.
Second, the Leesburg officials should revisit this ordinance in six months to assess how it’s working out because, like all laws, there are bound to be rough patches in the implementation, to say nothing of unintended consequences.
So while we applaud the decision to allow Leesburg residents to explore their agricultural heritage, we caution the decision-makers to monitor this new law and ensure that the rights and enjoyment of all citizens are well preserved.