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Delmont man allowed to keep his ducks

| Tuesday, July 23, 2013, 7:26 a.m.

After about an hour of testimony, including that of an avian expert, James Kistler of Delmont nervously awaited a three-member zoning hearing board to determine the fate of his pet ducks — Larry, Moe, Curly and Fred.

Board members met privately for about 15 minutes and returned with a unanimous decision to grant Kistler's appeal to keep his pet ducks.

“We're delighted,” Kistler said, after the hearing. “We feel that the board made the right decision.”

Robert Toolin, a board member, said the intent of the ordinance was “vague” and he appreciated the expert testimony from Jim Bonner, executive director of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania.

Toolin, along with John Vetrin and Alan Baum, voted in favor of granting the appeal.

Daniel Hewitt, the borough's solicitor, declined to comment after the decision.

In May, Kistler received notice alleging he was in violation of the borough's ordinance regulating domestic pets. He had to relinquish the ducks or file an appeal to keep them.

After discussing it with his wife, Kistler filed the $400 appeal.

During testimony, zoning officer William Heaps said he spotted the ducks when he was on an adjacent property in early May. He consulted with Hewitt before issuing the violation.

The ordinance, which officials estimate was adopted in 1991, restricts residents from keeping certain animals “in the living quarters of a residential structure” — including “poultry.”

Both sides debated the definition of poultry.

Bonner, who said he has about 25 years combined experience working for the Audubon Society as well as the National Aviary, testified that the definition of poultry is determined by the owner's purpose.

“I would say the purpose wasn't for meat or eggs,” Bonner said. “The purpose seemed to me to keep them as a companion pet.”

About 10 people attended the hearing in support of Kistler. Harry F. Smail Jr., an attorney representing Kister pro bono, also entered a petition of support signed by 244 Delmont residents.

Robin Watts, who spoke during the public comment portion of the hearing, said she supported the appeal to keep the ducks because they are quieter than other noises she said borough residents deal with, such as tractor-trailers rumbling along streets.

“It's my opinion we allow Mr. Kistler to keep his ducks,” she said.

In May, Kistler received notice alleging he was in violation of Delmont's ordinance regulating domestic pets.

The violation letter, dated May 10, states Kistler had to either relinquish the ducks or incur a $500 penalty for each day they remain on his property. He chose to file for the appeal hearing, which costs $400.

Kistler's plight gained popularity in pockets of the online community as a result of a Tribune-Review story published July 1. The story was picked up by other media outlets.

Kistler, 53, purchased the four ducklings from a local agricultural store for $3.50 each.

He built a pen, equipped with a disposable pool, in his backyard. The pen is fenced in with a lock. It is topped with a predator screen.

Amanda Dolasinski is a Trib Total Media staff writer. She can be reached at 724-836-6220 or adolasinski@tribweb.com.

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