Connellsville considers poultry raising; some big cities permit them as 'hobby'
By Mary Pickels
Published: Saturday, March 9, 2013, 12:21 a.m.
While Connellsville City Council ponders some residents' request to change the city's code permitting them to own chickens, some larger cities have established zoning and health codes permitting the use.
Pittsburgh, Cleveland and New York all permit urban coops, with specific regulations.
Heather Mikulas, an educator with the Penn State Cooperative Extension in Allegheny County, said the extension fields calls about Pittsburgh's Urban Agriculture Zoning Code, adopted in 2011, and holds workshops with poultry husbandry experts.
“We don't want people to try this on a whim,” she said.
Mikulas is chairwoman of the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, which worked with city council in developing the urban agriculture zoning code.
“We hear from suburban communities that don't have agricultural zoning on the books,” she said.
Pittsburgh's code limits the housing of chickens to three with a minimum lot size of 2,000 square feet, with an additional chicken allowed for each additional 1,000 square feet.
Roosters are not permitted.
The limitations keep poultry raising at the “hobby level,” Mikulas said. “Folks are raising them for eggs, not for meat.”
Heritage breed hens, she said, can lay eggs for years.
“I have a 10-year-old Rhode Island Red that is still laying,” she said.
Pittsburgh residents must obtain a special permit to own chickens.
“You do have to jump through some hoops, but they are not onerous,” Mikulas said. “It's becoming something municipalities are having to address, because homeowners want to do it.”
Last month, several residents approached city council and expressed an interest in urban chicken coops.
Geno Gallo, volunteer Sustainable Connellsville coordinator, said some residents see the option as a way to provide their families with organic eggs and even meat.
Under the city's current zoning ordinance, backyard chicken farming is only permitted by special exception in highway commercial C2 areas or industrial M1 areas, city health officer Tom Currey said.
Some members of council as well as Mayor Charles Matthews had concerns about potential health risks or noise nuisance the chickens might pose.
Organic eggs offer consumers health benefits and chickens contribute to the environment by minimizing the mosquito and tick population, some proponents said.
Residents discussed stipulations council could consider, from requiring chickens be caged to mandating their owners obtain a permit from the city.
Others suggested council review policies in cities that permit raising urban chickens.
“We got an opinion from the health board,” Matthew said.
The board recommended against changing zoning ordinances after Curry presented documented information on the dangers and health risks of free-range backyard chicken farms.
Matthews noted that Sustainable Connellsville planned to present information supporting their request.
“I personally think we have to take a look at all of the facts. ... If you want farm fresh eggs, I think even some of our grocery stores sell them,” Matthews said.”
Gallo suggested Connellsville consider a pilot program.
“There's no reason someone can't do this responsibly without affecting their neighbor,” he said.
Mary Pickels is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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