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Upper Dublin considering ordinance to regulate backyard chickens

Source: Ambler Gazette
Date: December 31, 2011
Byline: Linda Finarelli

Upper Dublin officials are not “chicken” when it comes to “talking turkey,” well, actually chicken.

Creating an ordinance to allow residents to keep chickens as backyard pets — a privilege now afforded only to those who have five or more acres of land — was on the agenda at the Dec. 20 Upper Dublin Planning Commission meeting. A lively discussion ensued on whether an ordinance is necessary, minimum lot size, setbacks, limits on the number of chickens and even the sale of eggs.

“There is a movement in a number of municipalities to allow backyard chickens as pets and producers of food,” township Director of Code Enforcement Rick Barton told the planners. “We’re trying to respond to something that’s becoming a movement in suburban areas, to accommodate this.”

Barton explained later that in the last few years the township has received several requests from residents who want to keep chickens in their backyard. Without having five acres of land, the resident must apply for a variance, which costs $500, and go to a hearing before the zoning hearing board, which makes the decision.

“There is a growing interest in the region for people to have their own eggs and the chickens are considered pets,” Barton said. “Because of the interest, at this point we are considering amending the ordinance [to allow it] if certain conditions are met.”

According to the website for Chicken Owners Outside and in Philadelphia (COOP) — a cooperative of chicken owners living in the greater Philadelphia region who purchase feed together and “share chicken stories,” eggs from hens raised on pasture are superior to those raised on factory farms. The website refers to tests by Mother Earth News stating the pasture produced eggs have one-third less cholesterol, one-quarter less saturated fat, two-thirds more vitamin A, two times more omega-3 fatty acids, three times more vitamin E, and 7 times more beta carotene than commercial eggs.

Omar Bounds, a lifelong resident of the 1400 block of Dreshertown Road, whose property has always had chickens, attended the planning commission meeting to urge the planners to be “reasonable,” in setting limits in the proposed ordinance.

“It’s a responsibility to keep chickens,” he said, adding he felt a limit of one to two acres would be reasonable “especially in certain environments,” including a “reasonable setback from neighbors.”

“There’s no reason responsible husbandry shouldn’t be permitted,” Bounds said. “It should be a case by case situation, not restricted to five acres. I’m asking you not to overreact to something natural.”

UDPC member Wendi Kapustin said she thought permission to raise chickens should remain with the zoning board.

“I’m not saying we should prohibit it; it’s site specific,” she said.

Township consultant Liz Rogan pointed out the zoning board members were “not experts either,” and that “not every one was as good a neighbor as you [Bounds].” She also noted that “rules can’t be situational.”

Questions regarding whether the township should control selling eggs and whether an application would be commercial or residential in nature as well as lot size, setbacks and number of chickens allowed would have to be addressed in an ordinance, Rogan said.

UDPC member Jeffrey Albert suggested township staff obtain information from other municipalities and the Penn State Extension “in terms of how much regulation helps and how much it hurts.”

“The information is readily available,” Bounds said. “You don’t need to over-regulate ... I’m just here to remind you, let’s not overreact.”

“We want to appropriately react,” Albert said.