An old proverb warns not to count your chickens until they’ve hatched.
But counting chickens — at least the number residents might eventually be allowed to keep on their properties — is at the center of a proposed ordinance McCandless council is developing.
Council is using an ordinance approved by North Fayette Township, where McCandless manager Robert Grimm previously worked, as a blueprint for a proposed law to regulate the raising of chickens, ducks and honey bees in the town.
“They (North Fayette officials) spent about two years looking over its ordinance and it was based, in large part, on what other communities have done,” Grimm told council at its Sept. 9 committee meeting.
While McCandless officials say a considerable amount of work remains to develop a final draft of the ordinance, they appear to have settled on some provisions that likely will become part of the final version of the law.
Roosters won’t be allowed and chickens, ducks and bees only will be permitted on some properties zoned for single and two-family homes. There also will be restrictions on how close a coop or bee hive can be to a property line as well as an outright ban on selling any of the items that are produced.
“This is strictly for personal use,” said Gavin Robb, the town’s solicitor.
Bruce Betty, the town’s zoning administrator, said the Allegheny County Conservation District recommends that no more than eight chickens be allowed on properties that are 20,000 square feet or smaller and that properties between 20,000 and 40,000 square feet be limited to 12 chickens.
The initial proposal also calls for chicken coops to be at least 20 feet from a property line and that they be properly vented and protected from weather, vermin and predators. Receptacles to hold chicken waste also will have to be at least 20 feet from a neighboring property.
Councilman Steve Mertz said the town is trying to be too restrictive by placing such a low limit on the number of chickens allowed.
“People who actually eat the eggs every day and have a family of four would need at least eight chickens,” he said.
Councilman Greg Walkauskus, who chairs the towns zoning committee, clashed with Mertz several times during the meeting over how restrictive the new law should be.
Walkauskus suggested that the town start with allowing a smaller number of chickens “until we get some experience with the ordinance.”
“I don’t see (allowing) 10 chickens initially,” he said. “Once we set it higher, we can’t go lower.”
He suggested the number be capped at five chickens to start.
But Walkauskus’ efforts to create a more stringent law angered Mertz, who wants to start by allowing residents to own 10 chickens.
“Let’s make sure nobody gets to do anything,” he said. “Let’make sure we do everything we can do to strangle the population with more and more laws.”
Walkauskus responded that council was not trying to prevent people from keeping some farm animals “we’re making a law to allow this.”
While much of the discussion was focused on chickens, this will also be used to regulate ducks and honey bees.
If approved in its current form, a significant number of residents would be allowed to legally raise chickens and bees on their properties, but most have properties that are too small to keep ducks.
Ducks also would only be permitted in areas zoned for one- and two-family homes but will have the added requirement that the lot size be at least 1 acre or larger.
Mertz also was unhappy about the land requirements for ducks, saying “I would not be surprised if it knocks out 90 percent” of residents from being able to keep them.
“That’s absolutely stunning,” he said.
Grimm said the larger lot size was required in the North Fayette ordinance because ducks have “more of an impact on neighborhoods than chickens.”
Councilman Bill Kirk suggested that the town’s administration gather more information about the impact from keeping ducks before the town settle on a final land requirement.
“We’re trying to protect residents while giving people opportunities to use their own properties,” he said. “A lot of people are going to be excluded, so I want to make sure it’s for a good reason.”
Residents in single- and two-family residential districts would be allowed to have up to two honey bee hives on their properties if their lot size is 4,000 square feet or larger. An additional hive, up to six, would be allowed for each additional 2,000 square feet of property.
Before council can vote on the ordinance, it will have to be reviewed by the town’s planning commission, which would make a recommendation to council on whether it should be approved.
Council will then have to conduct a public hearing before putting the measure to a vote.