County considers limits on farm animals

OKEECHOBEE – Is a 1.25-acre lot big enough to accommodate farm animals?

At their June 26 meeting, Okeechobee County commissioners dicussed limits on farm animals under various types of zoning.

“Currently, we have several residential zone districts that have farm animals,” explained Okeechobee County Planning Director Bill Royce. For example, in Country Hills Estates, which is residential-mixed zoning, residents with 5-acre lots are allowed to have a horse or a cow, he explained.

In residential rural zoning, there is no limit on how many animals you can have, he continued.

Viking (also known as “The Prairie”) is zoned for agriculture, he continued. But in areas designated for agricultural uses, if the property is less than 5 acres, there are limits on animals.

“We have areas in Taylor Creek Isles zoned agriculture, and up and down main roads have lots still zoned ag,” he said.

He said that if a lot zoned for agriculture is smaller than 5 acres, it follows the same zoning rules as Residential Single Family (RSF) Estate, which allows a horse or a cow on lots of at least 1 acre.
No farm animals are allowed if the lot is less than 1 acre.

This means that in Viking, where property was sold as 1.25-acre lots, the only farm animals you can have are horses or cows, unless you own at least four of the lots to meet the 5-acre requirement.

“I can see both sides of this,” said Mr. Royce. If someone in Viking wants to have a chicken, it does not seem unreasonable.

“I also see if you have less than an acre, you shouldn’t have farm animals,” he said.

Commissioner Brad Goodbread said it does not make sense that a homeowner in Viking can own a 1,200-pound horse but is prohibited from owning a 6-pound chicken.

Commissioner David Hazellief said the rule regarding lot size goes back to 2005.

“Anything under 5 acres was changed to meet same rules as RSF Estate,” he said.

“A lot of things go on out on The Prairie,” he continued. “But people who live out there want to have a chicken or a pig.”

People who move out to Viking go there for a country lifestyle, Commissioner Hazelleif said.

“If you want to say someone in the middle of Treasure Island can’t have chickens, I can understand that,” he said.

“I wouldn’t mind seeing limits,” said Commissioner Kelly Owens. “Where I live, I am surrounded by lots of farm animals. There are a whole lot of chickens and ducks.”

She said that if farm animals are allowed on parcels smaller than 5 acres, there should be some kind of limit on the number of animals. She explained that the issue isn’t always the animals you are surrounded by but the inability of people to care for them adequately.

“If it is a 1-acre lot, if a person decides to get a lot of chickens and doesn’t care for them appropriately , it can be a big problem for the neighbors,” she said.

Commissioner Bryant Culpepper said his concern is about the odor from the manure and also about the welfare of the animals if there are a lot of animals on a small lot.

“On Fourth Street we’ve got a guy with two horses on a residential lot. It’s a mud pit all the time,” he said. “There has to be some common sense involved in the impact it has on the neighbors.”

Mr. Royce said he will ask the planning board come up with some limits. He said that if the planning board suggests a change, it would be done by ordinance, which would require public hearings.

Commissioner Goodbread said the U.S. Department of Agriculture publishes stocking rates, which provides the recommended space per animal. That would be a good place for the planning board to start, he suggested,

“It could be used to establish the limits on how much acreage is needed for various types of animals,” he said.

Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs said asking the planning board to come up with limits is following the normal county process.

In other business at their June 26 meeting. the board appointed Tammy Hollander from KOA and Mike Krause of Okeechobee Fishing Headquarters to fill two vacancies on the Tourism Development Council Advisory Board. They also approved the appointment of Monica Clark to the board as the representative of the Okeechobee City Council.

The commissioners nominated four applicants to continue to serve on the Children’s Services Council: Melisa Jahner, Heather Hancock, Wendy Coker and Pat McCoy. These nominations will go to the governor’s office for approval. All four have been longstanding members of the Children’s Services Council; their terms have expired or will expire soon.

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