The City of St. Augustine Beach is looking to amend its code to allow for emotional support animal requests, allowing the family of a 9-year-old boy with disabilities to keep his eight chickens at their residence.
The need arose after Jennifer Wildasin requested a variance hearing in front of the Planning and Zoning Board to allow her to keep chickens for her son, who has a traumatic brain injury. City code prohibits the keeping of bees, insects, reptiles, pigs, horses, cattle, goats, hogs or poultry.
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At the PZB meeting in November, the board discussed how a variance was not the appropriate route to allow for the exception to city code. The board voted unanimously to deny the variance but approve the request, allowing Wildasin to keep the chickens.
But a neighbor of the family appealed the board’s decision, bringing the case in front of the City Commission on Monday. She argued that the application was flawed and that it would set a precedent that would allow other families to keep chickens on their property.
City Attorney Jim Wilson said essentially they would have to grant the appeal because the PZB didn’t have the authority to grant such a request.
"This appears to be a situation of good intentions gone bad in a way," Wilson told commissioners. "It wouldn’t have been appropriate to apply for a variance to begin with. It goes well beyond their jurisdiction as a planning and zoning board."
During public comment, several people came up to speak in favor of the family keeping the chickens, including PZB member Kevin Kincaid.
He explained that there seemed to be some confusion about the motion the board made to approve the request because they intended for the application to be passed on to the City Commission with a recommendation of approval.
"The intent of the motion was to move that onto the Commission for a final decision because we were told we were not the board to handle it, there was no mechanism for our board to handle it," Kincaid said. "It was approved to send this to the Commission with a strong recommendation that we find a way to work this out. It was frustrating that we were unable to assist and have to send this little boy and his family on to yet another hoop or hurdle in order to accomplish what they needed done."
Following advice from Wilson, the Commission voted to vacate the PZB’s decision to grant the request due to the board not having authority to do so.
But the Commission agreed they were in support of Wildasin’s son keeping his chickens. They instructed staff to look into changing the city’s code to add a provision that would require residents to request an exception to the ordinance for an emotional support animal.
"If we put a part into our code where we do get the opportunity to visit isolated incidences on a case-by-case basis, that would give us the power and knowledge of where it’s at within our own community," Vice Mayor Maggie Kostka said.
The commission also instructed staff not to issue a code enforcement citation for the chickens for 120 days while the code changes are being made.
This story originally published to staugustine.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.