North Huntingdon votes down ordinance to allow chickens

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A 14-month push by chicken fanciers for a new ordinance that would have allowed small flocks of chickens on suburban lots laid an egg Thursday night when the North Huntingdon commissioners voted 5-1 against it.

Commissioners Rich Gray, Tony Martino, Dave Herold, Donald Austin and Zach Haigis voted against the proposed ordinance, and Commissioner Brian West voted for it. Commissioners' President Lee Moffatt was absent.

Spirited comments from residents on both sides of the chicken controversy preceded the vote.

Gayleen Fisher spoke against the ordinance.

"I'm trying to convey that [having] backyard chickens is regression," she said. "This is a progressive community with average-sized suburban lots."

"I believe [chickens] draw varmints and decrease property values."

Elizabeth Bachy agreed.

"Backyard chickens will lower the value of our property," she said.

Robert Painter said when he heard about the ordinance, he thought it was great, since his family had a farm and he had been around animals all his life. It would also produce fresh eggs, he said, and respect residents' rights to do as they please with their property.

"If property rights are as important to you as they are to me, you will adopt the ordinance," he said.

Supporters of the ordinance at the meeting, mostly families with children, erupted in cheers at his words.

Dominic Rossetti objected to Mr. Painter's statements.

"Where does your property right end, Mr. Painter, and my property right begin?" he asked.

Tiffany Alchof of the Norwin Poultry Society spoke to the commissioners, and one of her daughters, Elliott, 8, presented the commissioners with a petition of 47 signatures in favor of the poultry ordinance she had collected herself.

"Cities, including Pittsburgh, have a 'Tour de Coop,' or 'Chicks in the Hood' event, raising money for shelters and food banks while educating the public on hens and food production," she said.

Ms. Alchof said an article she read said of the 100 most populous cities in the United States, 84 allow backyard chicken keeping.

She said the township proposed chicken ordinance addresses noise.

"Chickens are much quieter than dogs, kids, lawnmowers, motorcycles and the Norwin Band," she said.

Aaron McGregor of the Norwin Poultry Society, who first addressed the commissioners in June 2012, asking them to create an ordinance to allow homeowners to keep small flocks of chickens, also spoke.

Altogether, he and other supporters of the ordinance collected 661 paper signatures and 188 online signatures from North Huntingdon residents in support of the chicken ordinance. An additional 300 people from outside the township expressed support for it online, he said.

An interest in urban and suburban farming has swept the Pittsburgh area and the country, with people raising vegetables, growing fruit trees and keeping small flocks of chickens and honey bees on small lots.

Under the proposed ordinance, residents with a lot size of a minimum of 7,500 square feet could have kept as many as four hens. Owners of lots of more than 10 acres can keep chickens regardless.

If the ordinance had passed, hen houses and runs would have been located in backyards only, a minimum of 25 feet from the back of single family homes, and five feet from any property line.

The sale of eggs and breeding of hens on small lots would have been prohibited, with the hens being for the family's use only.

Before the vote, Mr. Gray said enforcement of the ordinance's provisions would have been "horrendous."

He said his constituents have come up to him in a number of places asking him to stop the chicken ordinance.

Only Mr. West said residents of his ward had been unilaterally in favor of having small flocks of chickens. He did not receive a single negative comment about the ordinance from any resident, he said.

neigh_east - neigh_westmoreland

Anne Cloonan, freelance writer: First Published September 13, 2013 1:30 AM


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