College Township residential chicken ordinance sent to roost

jvanderk@centredaily.comJuly 30, 2013 

— For the second time in five years, an ordinance that would allow chickens on residential lots was sent to the slaughterhouse.

Earlier this month, the Township Council narrowly defeated the ordinance — 3-2 — that would allow hens on lots less than 10 acres in size. Chairman Dave Fryer and Councilwoman Mary Shoemaker favored the idea.

In May, the Planning Commission also opposed it, failing to recommend approval to the council, 4-1. Member Rich Francke approved it, while Chairman Ray Forziat and members Al Barbour, Janet Sulzer and Steve Lyncha opposed.

Much of the opposition to the ordinance concerned the issue of lot sizes in the township, which also was at issue during discussion of a similar ordinance in 2009, according to planner Mark Holdren.

The final ordinance that went to a vote this time required no minimum lot size, an issue for some officials. Of the three Centre Region municipalities that regulate residential chickens, Patton Township requires at least a half-acre lot, Harris has a graduated scale of two to eight chickens on lots of various sizes less than 10 acres and State College has no lot size requirements.

Complicating the issue for officials and staff is that almost half of College Township’s 4,611 land parcels are smaller than one-third of an acre, so it was unclear what the minimum lot size might be in a revised ordinance.

If the minimum was a half-acre or less, some township neighborhoods would allow hens on only every other property, creating an issue of allowing the birds in some cases next to properties where they would be prohibited.

“If I had my way, I’d have no minimum,” Holdren said. “I’d just rely on setbacks. I think that’s a better way to control it.”

Holdren said keeping chickens also is a philosophical issue.

“If you’re in town, in a residential subdivision, you shouldn’t necessarily have chickens,” he said. “That’s why people live there. And if you want chickens, you move out into the country.”

Barbour made that exact point during the May 22 Planning Commission discussion. Forziat said he also heard that argument from residents.

Fryer said he was disappointed in the outcome and that the setback of at least 40 feet seemed adequate to keep chicken coops away from neighboring homes.

“I think it should have been adopted and, if it didn’t work out and there were regulation issues, enforcement issues, we could always repeal the ordinance,” he said. “I would have liked to have tried.”

While the topic is closed for now, Holdren said he expects to see it again. Each time the ability to keep backyard chickens is requested by a resident, the review process starts anew.

Harris was the most recent municipality to enact an ordinance allowing the birds, early in 2012, after its own lengthy debate between residents and officials.

“It’s going well,” said Manager Amy Farkas. The township has issued about a dozen permits. “The not having roosters is really important. That’s what disrupts the neighborhood, and letting chickens roam free.”

Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @jVanReporter.

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