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Jacksonville is clucking excited about backyard hens

300 homes in Jacksonville are about to get backyard hens.

Jacksonville’s City Council, on a close margin of 9-7, approved a bill Tuesday night launching a pilot program allowing residents to keep hens in urban settings.  Up to 300 permits will be issued over the next two years, which is the length of this pilot.

“It gives us a chance to evaluate whether there are any negative consequences,” says Councilwoman Lori Boyer.

City Council members have already exempted many neighborhoods from having to allow permits. Additionally, the ordinance is not meant to trump on any guidelines written by Homeowners Associations which may prohibit the hens. The city will not, however, be screening applicants to see if they live in a permissible neighborhood, saying instead it will be an issue between the homeowner and HOA.

There were a few efforts to put more restrictions on who could participate in the pilot, with one amendment that would have required consent from all adjacent homeowners voted down. Many councilmen were already concerned about the restrictions placed through neighborhood exemptions given in what they considered an arbitrary manner. Councilman Clay Yarborough pledged to create a more systematic way to approve those who are seeking exemptions.

For those in support of backyard hens- some of whom already have the hens illegally- the vote is a long-awaited victory.

“I don’t want to lose my darlings, you know. I love those little things,” says Riverside/Avondale resident Leigh Murphy.

Murphy tells me she grew up with hens and keeps some now, although she will now apply for one of the new permits to make that legal. She says she has never fielded complaints from her neighbors, and in fact has made new friends once people learn she has the animals.

For Northside resident Sarah Helm, it’s less about the companionship and more about having control of her food and finances.

“Everybody, not just people who live on agricultural zoned land, deserves to know where their food comes from and that it’s safe,” she says.

Helm thinks that as the urban hens movement spreads, people will start to become more aware overall of the benefits of buying local ingredients and food, which could have an economic impact down the road.

At the 18 month marker in this pilot, the Council will start to review the number and types of complaints filed relating to the hens, if any exist, in order to determine how to move forward with the program.

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