Secret chicken society exposed at Town Council

Jesse Hollett
Posted 5/4/17

ORANGE PARK – The Town of Orange Park Town Council scrapped a contentious pilot program Tuesday that would have opened the door for backyard chickens within the town’s limits.

As proposed, …

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Secret chicken society exposed at Town Council


ORANGE PARK – The Town of Orange Park Town Council scrapped a contentious pilot program Tuesday that would have opened the door for backyard chickens within the town’s limits.

As proposed, the project would end after 12 months, and would pave the way for a more permanent solution for what some residents want – access to farm-fresh eggs.

The ordinance’s abandonment wasn’t news for the people in the town who have had chickens for years and will continue to, however.

What was solidified for chicken owners Tuesday, however, was the relief that town code enforcement officers aren’t being directed to go looking for rule breakers unless there’s a complaint made against them for having out of compliance chickens.

Town resident Tom Williams jokingly refers to this group of mild delinquents as the “Secret Society of Chicken Owners.”

He’s owned chickens in the town for the last four years.

“Leave it be, don’t make this ordinance,” Williams said in a joking tone in front of the town council. The town doesn’t know that the society own chickens because “we’re all secret about it – just let this thing go, everything is fine.”

“The council knows they exist, I get that,” said Council member Gary Meeks. “There’s chickens out there. I appreciate all the work that has gone into this but I’m making a motion that we abandon the bill.”

Meeks said his reasoning was mainly due to the $50 tax attached to issuing chicken permits, but also added he wasn’t happy about using town manpower to ensure chickens were being kept to code.

“So let me get this straight, we’re going to say we’re not going to enforce an ordinance that we already have to not have chickens?” said Council member Connie Thomas.

Meeks said that that’s not what he was saying when he voted to abandon the ordinance that was introduced in early April.

Mayor Eugene Nix summarily clarified the town’s position.

“There’s some things I think government just needs to stay out of the way of,” he said. “If we leave it the way it is now, if someone has a complaint about their neighbor – I don’t think Mr. Williams has had any complaints about his – so when government starts getting involved then I think that’s opening up a whole new can of worms.”

The dialogue left many chuckling to their neighbors, and after the business wrapped up, many in the audience grabbed their things and left, signaling it was one of the hot button topics of the day.

After the meeting, Williams said while the chickens are under a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ kind of agreement at this point, he said it would still be best to consult with neighbors before considering getting chickens in the first place. Williams said he was actually comforted knowing the town was not going to come after him for having chickens.

He said the response to his chickens has been overwhelmingly positive, especially considering he delivers fresh eggs to his neighbors on River Road often.

“In essence, it’s a secret,” said Julie Williams, Tom’s wife. “They’re obviously not going to enforce it, which is good – it would require a lot of manpower. Now, it’s like it’s being deregulated before they regulated it.”

Not everyone in the audience Tuesday was thrilled about the ordinance to begin with.

“When I was a kid we had chickens running around our backyard and everything was cozy,” said R.B. Juneau, chicken ordinance opponent. “Let me take you back 25 years ago when we knew very little about the impact of smoking. Today, would you smoke in your house around your spouse, your kids? Your grandkids? No! … the studies so far are telling us that [chickens can give you] respiratory problems, and that impacts...all of us.”

Steven Jones, former town mayor of the Town of Orange Park, showed support for the ordinance before council abandoned it.

“We love them, anytime the kids come over they love to come over and see the chickens,” he said. “No one that comes over says ‘oh, we smell the foul smell from the chickens.’ The manure is not a problem.”

Overall, response to the ordinance’s abandonment and initial proposal remained divided equally among those in attendance at all related meetings.

Many saw the draw of fresh eggs free from hormones and guilt appealing, while others saw the possibility for disease, insects and apocalypse far too close to their own yard to give the go ahead on such an ordinance.

The county currently allows backyard chickens, but the Town of Orange Park no longer has an ordinance, or the prospect of an ordinance, allowing the animals.

Duval County and other surrounding counties have ordinances allowing chickens.

Overall, however, no one appeared to leave the meeting Tuesday night with a foul taste in their mouths.

“I love my chickens, Julie said. “They’re gentle, they give you comfort, they’re sweet and they’re kind.”


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