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Elizabethtown resident's chicken proposal ruffles feathers

Source: Intelligencer Journal
Date: August 11, 2009
Byline: Tom Knapp

For a few moments Thursday, the business-as-usual sounds of an Elizabethtown Borough Council meeting devolved into the raucous din of a chicken coop.

Assistant borough manager Roni Ryan told council of a suggested zoning amendment, proposed by a woman who lives on Maple Street, that would allow residents to keep and raise chickens at their homes.

"Our ordinance prohibits that for various reasons — health concerns, primarily," Ryan said. "But this woman has done some research, and she has proposed for you an ordinance amendment that would allow the keeping of chickens."

Council president Meade Bierly, who has some experience in that field, was quick to chime in with an opinion.

"I raised chickens as a moneymaking project as a teenager," he said. "And chickens do smell."

Bierly also said that chickens can create a significant noise problem for neighbors, and he proceeded to do a demonstration of various hen and rooster calls, including the rooster's typical morning wake-up alarm and the satisfied cluck of a hen that has just laid an egg.

Turning more serious, Bierly reminded council that Elizabethtown "is a 2-square-mile borough that is, for the most part, urbanized." Chickens, he said, would clearly be an issue for neighbors.

Councilman Chuck Mummert said that the resident in her proposal argues that "chickens are not farm animals, they are pets.

"I'm not sure I'm ready to agree with that," he said.

And councilman Dale Treese said that the woman "clearly does believe in this. But it's difficult for us to open the door. Once the door is open, other people are going to walk through."

The suggested amendment would require anyone interested in a home-based chicken operation to obtain a five-year renewable permit from the borough.

The amendment would limit each home to a maximum of four chickens, with no roosters and no on-site slaughtering. Chickens could be kept in a fenced or covered enclosure in the backyard only.

In six pages of supporting material that accompanied the one-page ordinance proposal, the resident argued that "backyard chickens are not farm animals."

"For thousands of years, chickens, like dogs and cats, have lived alongside people in backyards large and small in cities and small towns," the document states.

"Chickens are friendly, social, intelligent, affectionate, entertaining, low-maintenance, small, quiet, and inexpensive to keep. They are quieter and cleaner than most dogs. They uniquely offer suburban and city-dwelling children the opportunity to understand a little more clearly where their food comes from. And they offer all of us the opportunity to produce a little of our own food."

The document further states that domestic chickens are neither loud nor smelly, they present no health risk for residents and do not impact property values.

Without taking formal action on the matter, council instructed Ryan to tell the woman that the proposed amendment is not suitable for consideration in the borough.

Urban chicken farming has become a popular way of life in cities across the United States that have seen a surge in the "buy local" concept. Last year, grass-roots organizations in Missoula, Mont., South Portland, Maine, Ann Arbor, Mich., and Fort Collins, Colo., succeeded in overturning city ordinances outlawing backyard chicken farming, according to a November 2008 Newsweek article.

Locally, Lancaster health officials notified Schirlyn Kamara-Sabur, of the Dig It! organic food project, in April to remove a 20-bird flock of chickens from her address in the city's southeast — or face hefty fines. The birds were moved.