Norwin Poultry Society pushes to allow chickens

| Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 6:45 p.m.

Members of the Norwin Poultry Society, a small group of North Huntingdon residents, hope to raise egg-producing chickens in their backyards.

Aaron McGregor, founder of the society, said the hens would not only be pets but also would allow residents to have fresh organic eggs at their disposal.

“North Huntingdon was a farming community, and a lot of the farmland is disappearing with new developments and housing plans,” McGregor said. “I think a lot of people could see hens, not roosters, as beneficial because they help produce food, and they are very docile pets, that are sometimes even more affectionate than a cat.”

The Norwin Poultry Society currently has about two dozen members, McGregor said.

McGregor, an Airview Drive resident, first asked the commissioners to consider amending an ordinance a year ago in the hope of allowing residents to keep up to six hens in their backyards to produce eggs.

According to current township ordinances, residential districts require at least 10 acres to house livestock. It also requires coops, barns or feeding areas to sit at least 250 feet from property lines.

McGregor said he owns about a third of an acre, which prevents his family from keeping chickens.

There are several breeds of chickens, but, McGregor said, he is interested only in keeping egg-laying hens, contained in a coop, on his property. These breeds need about 3 square feet of coop space per bird, he said.

“The area needed is about the size of a dog house,” McGregor said. “And if the coop is built on stilts, there will be enough room underneath it for the chickens to have a nice run area.”

Township officials plan to include an ordinance on backyard hens in its upcoming zoning ordinance overhaul, according to Andrew Blenko, township planner and engineer.

Officials began working with consultants from Wexford-based Delta Development Group about two years ago to modernize the zoning ordinances. They added the chicken ordinance into the overhaul last fall, he said.

The township's proposed chicken ordinance allows up to four chickens on a minimum parcel of 7,500 square feet. Each additional hen would require an additional 1,500 square feet of land, and homeowners would be permitted to keep up to six hens, according to a draft of the ordinance.

“Our issue was making sure there was adequate room for the chickens,” Blenko said. “We also wanted to fine-tune it with specifics to make sure we understand what is considered suitable and adequate to keep chickens.”

The revisions must go before the township's planning commission and the Westmoreland County Planning Office before the commissioners could hold a public hearing and take a final vote to enact the new zoning regulations.

Blenko said he hopes to have the overhauled ordinances ready for a final vote before the end of the year.

Last month, Murrysville council unanimously shot down a similar proposal to allow backyard chickens after several residents voiced their opposition. Murrysville's ordinance requires property owners to have at least 10 acres to keep chickens.

“I haven't been approached with requests to have chickens,” Council President Joan Kearns said. “I have been approached with requests not to reduce the acreage.”

Despite Murrysville officials' opposition to backyard chickens, McGregor said, he is confident North Huntingdon residents will be able to house hens.

North Huntingdon is a very welcoming place for new ideas, such as a local food-sustainability movement,” he said. “This change would prove that the township is a very progressive suburb of Pittsburgh.”

Tribune-Review Staff writer Amanda Dolasinski contributed to this report.

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626.

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