Council favors birds and bees in Forest Hills

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Chickens and bees in search of a good home can now add Forest Hills to a growing list of urban and suburban living options.

On Wednesday night, in a roughly 80-seat room packed almost to the brim, the Forest Hills borough council voted unanimously in favor of an ordinance that will allow the keeping of bees and chickens in residents' yards. The move follows six months of discussion among proponents and opponents of the ordinance as well as city officials on how best to craft a measure that would address concerns of all community members.

Supporters of the ordinance, the largest group in attendance at the meeting, said beekeeping and the raising of chickens are individual actions that have positive effects on a larger scale, including helping to promote food sustainability and community.

"You start realizing how much interdependence there is in how you live and in your surroundings, and how you can improve those surroundings," said Jet Townsend of Forest Hills.

The ordinance stipulates that no more than four hens over 1 month old can live at any one residence, and that the chickens must be kept in a fenced area at all times. It also states that only two beehives are allowed for every 2,000 square feet of property, and that hives cannot be in a front yard or stand within 10 feet of any property line.

Mr. Townsend and his wife, Drue Miller, don't currently keep chickens or bees, though Ms. Miller said she has considered the latter. Regardless, urban farming is good for entire neighborhoods, they said. Beekeepers, for example, help out everybody who has flowers.

Elizabeth Donohoe, who has lived in Forest Hills for about 50 years and helped coordinate efforts to pass the ordinance, said beekeeping is especially important in suburban and urban communities because of the recent harm done to bee populations in rural America by big agriculture and pesticides.

Mrs. Miller said the ordinance contains provisions intended to address the concerns of those opposed to the urban farming measure, such as language mandating that food for chickens be kept in vermin-proof containers.

Before the vote was taken, councilwoman Devon Wood estimated that more than 300 hours had been put into crafting the "model ordinance," which she noted three other communities are already looking to emulate.

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Gavan Gideon: ggideon@post-gazette.com or 412-263-4910.


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