Palm Beach County planning staff took comments Wednesday from among 50 residents who attended a community meeting at the Vista Center in West Palm Beach about a proposed ordinance to allow Acreage and Jupiter Farms residents to keep livestock on their property.
The input was in preparation for final adoption of the new rules at a Palm Beach County Commission zoning meeting Thursday, Aug. 23.
During opening comments Planning, Zoning & Building Executive Director Rebecca Caldwell said the draft ordinance would provide protection to property owners in the rural and exurban tiers who choose to keep livestock. Otherwise, they would be subject to citations.
“We hope to do that in these regulations by addressing the structures associated with livestock as an accessory use to residential structures,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell said she personally has a close association with farmers, coming from a farming family.
“I want to assure you that anything under my stewardship would not be meant to hurt anybody who is a farmer,” she said. “We also have the rights of all citizens to consider, so that’s what we’re trying to achieve.”
Caldwell said the proposed regulations are narrowly tailored to distinguish raising poultry from bird breeding and designed to protect residents’ rights to keep livestock as provided in the comprehensive plan.
The regulations address standards for portable and permanent accessory structures for keeping livestock, which are more lenient than what is currently in the uniform land development code, she said.
“The proposed regulations will benefit the residents in these areas,” Caldwell said.
Permanent accessory structures would have to be at least 15 feet away from the side and rear property lines. A portable structure that could be moved around can be located in the front yards.
Audrey Norman, director of the county’s Agricultural Extension, said raising livestock is extremely educational for children and that the ideal livestock for children is poultry, but they can be a nuisance to neighbors. She also pointed out that it is not necessary to have a rooster for hens to lay eggs for consumption.
Norman said keepers of livestock should also be concerned about animal waste management. “Large animals generate a lot of waste, but small animals do, too, if you have a lot of them,” she said.
Norman pointed out that the lack of grass around immobile chicken coops reflect a need for them to be moved periodically so the ground will not become over-saturated with chicken waste and become a sanitary issue.
“In the case where you have a portable structure, by moving and rotating it, you can be sure there will be grass,” she said.
She also pointed out the health caveats of home-produced eggs. “Eggs are wonderful things to have, but they can become a food safety issue,” she said. “If you are selling them, there is a host of health issues.”
Norman added that animals should be secured for their protection from predators. “Bobcats and raccoons especially love chickens,” she said. “You should keep them enclosed so they don’t get loose in the neighborhood. They should not be running loose up and down the street.”
Former Indian Trail Improvement District Supervisor Mike Erickson reiterated a suggestion he had made at the preliminary reading to delete the limitation on the number of livestock yard sales to six a year and instead limit sales to the amount of livestock or produce they can grow on their property.
“The concept of six sales is not even enforceable,” Erickson said. “You can limit it to the produce or livestock that the property owner produces on the site itself.”
Acreage resident Deborah Milligan said she thinks the community is falling victim to excessive regulation. “I’m a single mom, and I wanted room for my child to play,” Milligan said. “I want him to experience the rural lifestyle.”
Fred Drexler said he has owned a home in The Acreage since 1986 and believes in having livestock, but that he has a neighbor with 60 or 70 goats that draw flies, attract vermin and produce a stench.
Jojo Milano asked about the difference in permanent and accessory structures, and Caldwell said there is no clear answer under the Florida Building Code. “As much as I would like to give you black and white, I cannot,” Caldwell said. “As director, I can assure you the requirements will be reasonable.”
Acreage resident Sue Nelson said balance is needed to control livestock breeders who go too far, pointing out that her neighbor is breeding goats and that the odor is unbearable. “I can’t go out in my yard to have a barbecue,” she said. “It has got to the point that the quality of my life is diminished.”
A representative of the Palm Beach County Health Department pointed out that that there is a state statute on sanitary nuisances that would cover her problem and urged her to contact them.
Robert Custer of Jupiter Farms said he had been in code enforcement most of his life but chose Jupiter Farms 12 years ago because of the lack of regulation. “We were able to breathe,” he said. “They did not have rules and regulations.”
Custer said that he personally has some goats, chickens and dogs. “Anything that would impede that would be a detriment,” he said.
Land use attorney Susan Kennedy of Jupiter Farms said she had some concerns about language in the ordinance but approved of it in principle. She said she understood the point staff was trying to make that under existing regulations, residents of the rural and exurban tiers have no protection from citations for keeping livestock.
Kennedy pointed out that the growing number of people moving to the area are not familiar with the community and are going to complain about people keeping livestock. “We’re getting hurt, and people are complaining about what they consider nuisances,” she said. “These people moved out into The Acreage with the anticipation of living in the Hamptons or Abacoa but with a bigger lot. I support the staff and all your hard work.”
County Commissioner Jess Santamaria said he appreciated what staff had done so far but that more work needed to be done, and they should not rush the ordinance. “This issue is very simple,” he said. “These people here [county staff] have been working very hard.”
Santamaria told staff that what they come up with has to benefit the great majority. “You have done good work, but there is more that needs to be done,” he said.