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Chicken ordinance now up to North Huntingdon commissioners

| Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, 12:48 p.m.

After a tense hour-long debate, North Huntingdon Township's planning commission shot down a proposed backyard chicken ordinance Monday night.

But that doesn't mean the chicken ordinance has died.

Board members debated back and forth, picking through portions of the proposed ordinance, but it ultimately failed. Instead, the planning commission approved a recommendation to keep the current ordinance regulating chickens with a 5-2 vote.

Still, because the planning commission is an advisory committee, the township commissioners will make the final decision. That vote could come at its next meeting.

Virginia Stump and James McHugh cast the only votes against keeping the current ordinance and both expressed support for the new proposal.

“I really think there's some solutions here,” Stump said of the proposal. “I think we can come up with a win-win solution.”

Among her ideas, Stump proposed a one-year trial period for residents to keep two hens. Ultimately, board members argued it would be too hard to regulate and enforce when the period ended.

Stump then suggested amending portions of the ordinance to restrict backyard chickens to lots at least 20,000 square feet, up from the 7,500 square feet originally proposed. The motion failed.

Planning commission board member Bernard Solomon, said he had received more feedback in favor of keeping the current ordinance instead of allowing chickens on smaller lots.

“I'm not in favor of it,” he said. “I think that what we should do is stick with the ordinance that we have now.”

Joe Dykta, another board member who voted against the ordinance, expressed enforcement concerns.

“The first person to have a problem is going to call the police,” he said. “I'm sure our police have other things they'd much rather do than resolve a chicken dispute. We live in a residential community and we should try to maintain it. I'm against this.”

The proposed ordinance deals mainly with “nuisance issues,” said board member Stephen Cross.

“Ninety percent of this ordinance is dealing with the potential nuisance issues of something some folks are trying to bring into the township,” he said. “If we have to write an ordinance that deals with nothing but the nuisance factor, then that in itself should tell you something. I just don't see the value.”

Currently, only residents with at least 10 acres can have chickens in the township.

If approved by the township commissioners, the ordinance would allow residents with lots that are at least 7,500 square feet to keep up to four hens. Residents on larger lots could keep additional hens, but no more than eight.

Those residents would be required to obtain a poultry occupancy permit, which would help the township keep tabs on where hens live. The permits would be renewable every three years and cost $10.

Residents would be prohibited from selling eggs. Slaughtering would be allowed, but only indoors.

Hens would be restricted to henhouses and runs, which are enclosures for the animals made mostly of chicken wire. Those henhouses would be need to be on a concrete slab or up in the air and fenced in.

Henhouses could only be kept in rear yards, at least five feet from a property line and 40 feet from any residential dwelling.

Residents in violation of the ordinance could face fines up to $1,000 and have their hens seized by the township, according to the proposed ordinance.

Gayleen Fisher, of North Huntingdon, presented the planning commission with two petitions, about 120 signatures, from people against the ordinance.

“I am speaking for many, many residents of North Huntingdon,” she said. “We are just saying we don't want backyard chickens.”

She argued that allowing chickens would not be ideal for the community.

“Yes, chickens in the backyard was done 100 years ago,” she said. “One hundred years ago I believe everyone was reading by candlelight. It's been said raising chickens in the backyard is in vogue, but so are many other things in vogue today. But that doesn't mean they are right.”

Aaron McGregor, Nick Benevento and Rob Painter, all members of the digital group Norwin Poultry Society, also showed their support for the ordinance's approval Monday night.

The group presented a 50-signature petition to the township commissioners last week, and has vowed to continue efforts to recruit more signatures.

Township commissioners will vote on the ordinance at an upcoming meeting in September.

Amanda Dolasinski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626.

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