North Huntingdon residents may be able to keep hens in their backyards

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North Huntingdon residents may be able to keep four to six hens in backyard coops under an ordinance being considered by township commissioners.

Roosters, because they crow at dawn, would not be allowed under the ordinance unless residents own 10 acres or more.

Andy Blenko, director of planning and zoning, said the township's entire zoning ordinance has been revised and that township commissioners hope to vote on it in a few months. The township's new chicken ordinance is a small part of the overall zoning code revision.

Delta Development Group Inc. of Wexford has rewritten the zoning code for North Huntingdon, including the ordinance dealing with chickens. It says that property owners whose lots are at least 7,500 square feet could keep up to four hens. They would be permitted to own one additional hen for every 1,500 square feet above the 7,500 square foot minimum, for a maximum of six hens.

If the ordinance passes, hen houses and runs will be allowed in backyards only and will be required to be a minimum of 25 feet from the back of the single-family home and 5 feet from any property line.

The sale of eggs and breeding of hens on small lots would be prohibited; the hens would be for the family's use only.

Under the ordinance, henhouses must have screened windows and fully enclosed runs with roofs to protect the hens from predators.

Jim Morrison, chief administrator in Murrysville, said that neighboring municipality considers chickens as farm animals and they must be on 10 or more acres.

However, he said, both elected officials and residents have indicated an interest in allowing chickens on smaller lots and Murrysville council also will address an ordinance to allow chickens.

Officials in Murrysville also are waiting to see what North Huntingdon does with its so-called "chicken ordinance," he said.

Dallas Leonard, director of community development for Penn Township, said one of that township's community development goals is to encourage agriculture, agricultural enterprise and rural living.

"We don't legislate against such things as small groups of chickens," he said.

Aaron McGregor and his wife, Heather Fowler, attended the North Huntingdon commissioners voting meeting in December to ask about progress with the township ordinance. They previously asked the commissioners to create an ordinance to allow residents to own a small number of chickens.

In June, Mr. McGregor submitted a sample ordinance composed of ideas from chicken ordinances in State College and in cities nationwide including Seattle, Tucson, Ariz.; St. Petersburg/Pinellas County, Fla.; and Milwaukee.

State College has a population of about 40,000, similar to North Huntingdon's 30,000, he said.

Ms. Fowler said she and her husband are enthusiastic about organic gardening and producing their own food, and they believe having backyard chickens would be an enhancement.

"We can't own a farm, but we can make the most out of our quarter acre," she said. "It would be a great hobby, and a great way to show our son a little bit about where some of his food comes from."

Mr. McGregor said when he was growing up in Armstrong County, several of his relatives had farms there, and he noticed how responsible and mature their children were because of their farming duties. Caring for chickens is a good way for children to learn responsibility, he said.

"It would be wonderful for North Huntingdon Township to reclaim its history as a farming community while recognizing its future as a progressive suburb of Pittsburgh," he said. "It's a way to get back to our roots."

If the ordinance passes, Mr. McGregor said, Krista Martin of the Uniontown Poultry Club will give seminars on how to raise chickens at Norwin Public Library.

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Anne Cloonan, freelance writer:


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