Kalina Vidovic may be just 2, but she's already an expert chicken wrangler.
Her family's three chickens -- "Trouble" and "The Ladies" -- live in a coop in the back yard of their home near Rowlett Park in North Tampa.
When the chickens slip out of the coop and into the fenced yard, Kalina's there to hustle them back home -- even if it means picking up a hen nearly as big as she is.
"This is a great way to know your food is safe and your animals are raised kindly," said Tanja Vidovic, Kalina's mother.
The coop holding the Vidovics' pet poultry sits a stone's throw from their neighbors' back porch, just across the back fence. That's a lot closer than the 200 feet the city's code currently demands, making the coop technically illegal.
While the Vidovic family may be breaking the law, they're not the only ones. Across the city, chickens are an increasingly popular addition to many families, particularly those, like the Vidovics, looking for an alternative to store-bought eggs.
At the urging of chicken owners, city officials are rewriting the city's rules to make it OK for residents to raise their own chickens.
The change was originally proposed last April. At the time, city officials planned to model the chicken rules on changes that opened the city's neighborhoods to community gardens.
After 10 months gestating behind the scenes, the proposal will return to the city council next week as a revision to the city's land-development code, which governs what landowners can do with their property.
The proposal lays out the rules for chicken ownership:
* Owners can have up to five birds on a 5,000-square-foot lot.
* The birds must live in a coop that follows the city's rules for yard set-backs.
* No roosters are allowed.
The Feb. 7 meeting is the first in a months-long chain of events that will have to take place before the proposal becomes official. It will go through the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission and two city council public hearings before getting a final vote.
Meantime, the city's code enforcement officials continue to look the other way as long as chicken owners aren't making pests of themselves.
Julie Bird learned that when she called the city two years ago to ask about raising chickens at her home in Seminole Heights.
"The lady said, 'Do they have names?'" Bird said. "I gave them their names, and she said, 'They're pets'"
Despite the widespread interest in back yard chickens, the idea of officially welcoming them in the city ruffled a few feathers when residents raised it last spring.
Councilman Frank Reddick, the lone vote against the proposal, made it clear he was anti-chicken.
"You can buy books and read and educate your child about organic food," Reddick said at the time.
Reddick said Monday he hasn't changed his position.
"I just personally think chickens shouldn't be allowed in the city," he said. "There's the possibility they can get loose."
Reddick's district includes Ybor City, which is patrolled by poultry descended from the back yard birds owned by Italian, Cuban and Spanish immigrants.
Council Chairman Charlie Miranda, who raised his own chickens while growing up in Ybor City, said the hobby teaches kids where their food comes from.
"Kids now, all they want to do is play with the computers and text," Miranda said. "I think it adds a sense of responsibility to the kids that when you go to the market its not just there."
Bird said the new rules are both a return to Tampa's past and a step toward a future of organic food and more care for the environment.
"I'm very excited that we're going to be able to come out of the closet," she said.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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