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‘Chicken wars’ rage on in Lehigh Acres

By Staff | Aug 29, 2011

The chicken war rages on in Lehigh Acres, but a report from county staff, which has been given to Lee County Commissioners, may bring an end to the battle between people who believe they should be able to raise backyard chickens in a coop for eggs and those who say chickens should only be kept in agriculturally zones areas.

Dianna Caminos spearheaded a “meet and greet” session last week which drew a crowd of about 40 supporters to the East County Regional Library, the majority overwhelmingly supporting her and others who are raising a few chickens in their yards in residentially zoned areas.

Caminos, who was cited by a code enforcement officer in June, says the county is wrong not to allow people today to have a few chickens in the backyards if they are cared for properly. And she’s collecting signatures on a petition and claims to have more than 700, admitting that some are not legal since no address of the signer was listed.

Meanwhile another petition with more than 600 names from Country Club Estates along Joel Boulevard in Lehigh Acres has surfaced and folks there are working to have the county maintain the status quo by leaving the ordinance that permits chicken growing only in agriculturally zoned areas and not amend it in any way to allow chickens to be grown on residential lots.

The debate has become a hot issue in unincorporated Lee County, especially in Lehigh Acres. Of the 40 people who attended last Wednesday’s Save Our Chickens Rally, many raised their hands when asked by Caminos if there were backyard chicken owners in the audience. Others smiled but didn’t raise their hands.

As the law stands now, only those people who live on agriculturally zoned lots can raise chickens in their backyards.

Caminos said she has received a lot of support from people who have chickens in their backyard albeit it illegal in residential areas.

“They have their chickens in coops that they keep clean and they have fenced runs for them. They take care of the manure from the chickens usually using it in compost to raise vegetables in a garden,” Caminos said.

She noted that with the tough economic times, people are turning toward becoming sustainable by raising chickens for eggs and planting food to save money. She said those who have eggs often trade them with other who raise vegetables in their back yards.

Caminos said she lives south of Sunshine Boulevard, in a sparsely populated area, but with neighbors nearby. She said there have been no complaints from her neighbors. The area is classified as residential.

However, a 10-page report has been issued by the Department of Community Development in Lee County, following a request by Lee County Commissioners to look into the matter and give the board information in which to consider if the ordinance can be or should amended or changed.

Under the signature of Mary Gibbs, director of the Department of Community Development, a “White Paper” has been issued and Caminos said she had only received the email a few hours before and had not had time to completely read it. She proceeded to read it to the audience and commented point by point on its comments. Most people in the audience volunteered comments mainly supporting people having chickens in residential zones areas.

A summary of the White Paper presented by Gibbs, stated the following:

“There are benefits and detriments which are listed further in the report. The main benefits are that chickens are a source of food and recreation for families. The detriments are that allowing chicks and coops in traditional, residential neighborhoods alters the urban/suburban nature of RS-1 zoning and potential affects property rights and property values.

“After thorough analysis, it is staff’s opinion that the detriments of allowing chickens and coops in traditional residential neighborhoods outweigh the benefits.”

Meanwhile, Stan Damon, vice president of County Club Estates Association Inc., wrote a letter to Commissioner Frank Mann saying that on behalf of the landowners in the neighborhood, they are overwhelmingly opposed to the keeping and raising of chickens in an established residential neighborhood.

“CCEA is not a snobbish group as our names may suggest to some. The entrance to our deed restricted, not gated, neighborhood is located across the street on Joel Boulevard from the original Admiral Lehigh Golf Course hence the name.”