Shellie and Scott Pontius are one of five households currently permitted by the city to keep backyard chickens.
Each morning, Scott and Shellie Pontius step into their back yard and hear a sound not often heard in the suburbs of Port Orange — The soft clucking of chickens.
Shellie opens the small barn doors to the coop, and five hens rush to the door to greet their caregiver. She checks their food and water levels, and she cleans the coop's bedding, if needed, as the chickens peck at the herbs surrounding the coop. Each morning she finds gifts — brown or light blue eggs.
"We're spoiled now," Scott said.
The couple became interested in owning chickens when their daughter, Heather, who lives in Indianapolis, adopted a few of her own. She uses her chickens eggs for her baking business.
Scott and Shellie have lived in Port Orange for about 20 years, and when City Council approved a two-year Temporary Urban Chicken Pilot Program, they were thrilled to get chickens of their own.
"I was gung-ho, and ready to do it," Shellie said.
In February 2017, City Council approved the program to allow up to 30 households in the city to keep up to five hens. City planning manager Penelope Cruz said five permits have been issued since the start of the program.
The program's expiration date was set for January 2019, unless City Council chose to extend it for another two years or adopt a permanent ordinance. If it chose to end the program, permit holders would have received notices to remove their chickens by the end of January.
Scott and other permit holders attended the City Council meeting on Oct. 2, when council members discussed ending or extending the program, to make a case for keeping it.
"It was a $3,000 investment for us, but more than that, the kids in the area love it," Scott said. " I haven't met a kid that doesn't like spending time with the chickens."
City Council then directed staff to bring back an ordinance to make the urban chicken regulation permanent, and it is anticipated to be a permanent program in January.
The ordinance requires the property to be an owner-occupied, single family residence. Owners also need a 6-foot tall opaque fence to screen the chicken coop, and setbacks for the coop are similar to current shed setbacks.
The Pontius coop is located in back corner of their yard. Scott installed 6-foot tall wood fence around the coop, complete with barn doors for easy access. The roof of the fenced area has a mesh to protect the chickens from predatory birds, such as hawks.
Gravel and stones surround the coop, and herbs, flowers, garden trinkets and soft lights adorn it. A small table with two chairs are near the entrance for Shellie, Scott and visitors to sit, enjoy some wine and watch the chickens.
"If you can't find Shellie, she's probably sitting in the coop," Scott said.
Prior to receiving permit approval, chicken owners also were required to complete a class on keeping chickens through the University of Florida Agricultural Extension Service or through a similar organization. Shellie and Scott attended spent a couple hours at a class in Kissimmee.
After they followed the necessary steps, Shellie did some research on the types of chickens she wanted and visited a farm in Deltona, where she and her young neighbor, Joie, hand-picked their chickens. Joie visits the coop frequently and is the chickens' caregiver when Scott and Shellie leave town.
Though small at first, the chickens grew into vibrant adults.
Pippi, an Easter Egger, has orange feathers and is the only one that lays light blue eggs. Gertie Grace is a Golden Wyondette with feathers that look like black lace; Rocky is a Rhode Island Red, named for its maroon feathers; and Miranda is a Cuckoo Maran with black feathers. The youngest chicken, Snoop Chicken, is a Frizzle. She is much smaller than the others and has curled and disheveled feathers.
To Shellie and Scott, caring for the chickens are a hobby that keeps giving. Each chicken lays an egg each day, even without the presence of a rooster. They said people are concerned about noise or cleanliness, but city staff said few complaints were filed over the last two years.
One complaint was emailed to city staff regarding sanitary conditions. Code enforcement inspected the property and found the chicken coop was clean and compliant with city regulations. Animal Control also received a noise complaint, but the property also was compliant with the program's requirements.
It also is inexpensive to care for them, Shellie said. In addition to eating chicken feed, chickens eat anything. Mexican food is among the Pontius chickens' favorite meals.
Keeping chickens is something Scott and Shellie would recommend to those interested, and they hope others will pursue permits once the ordinance becomes permanent.
"We're 100% buying into the program," Shellie said.