TAMPA - Tampa's backyard chickens officially can peck in peace.
By a vote of 5-2, the city council has given its final approval to an ordinance reclassifying chickens as pets instead of livestock, putting them on equal footing with dogs, cats and goldfish in the eyes of the law.
The new standard goes into effect Aug. 1. It applies to people living in single-family homes, not apartments or condos.
The rules ban roosters and limit owners to one hen per 1,000 square feet of lot size. That means an average city residential lot could have five hens.
The chickens must live in a coop no more than 6 feet tall and with a 125-square-foot footprint.
Tampa's history is filled with backyard chickens, largely in Ybor City and West Tampa, where immigrants kept them for eggs and meat. Their descendants still roam the streets in those areas.
In recent years, however, backyard chickens have become popular among city dwellers concerned about the safety of the food they get from grocery stores. From Maine to California, cities big and small have yielded to the call to treat chickens as pets.
Thursday's vote ended two years of discussion on Tampa's backyard chickens. When the debate began, chickens were allowed, but the rules - including a 200-foot setback from the neighbors - made it virtually impossible to keep them legally on the city's typical residential lots.
Still, dozens of people from Seminole Heights to South Tampa came forward to say they had them or wanted them.
The measure didn't pass without ruffling some feathers. "We do not live in the country," Tampa resident Linda Patton told the council. "We live in the city by choice."
As for the notion that people are keeping their own chickens to get fresh eggs:
"That's what the grocery store is for, folks," Patton said.
Councilmen Frank Reddick and Mike Suarez said the rules on backyard chickens are nearly impossible to enforce.
Code officers, who would do the enforcing, can't look over 6-foot fences to see what people are keeping in their backyards. Birds that get loose are untouchable because Tampa is a bird sanctuary.
"This is an unenforceable type of ordinance," Suarez said. "It's almost impossible to know whose chickens are getting out."
Zoning Administrator Cathy Coyle said the city will review the bird sanctuary rules to see if chickens can be exempted from them.
Meanwhile, loose chickens can be rounded up if they're on private property uninvited, Coyle said.