Backyard chicken talks to continue in College Township

Though a majority of Planning Commission members hesitated to consider it further on Tuesday, township planner Mark Holdren will draft an ordinance that would allow chickens on residential lots, offering plenty of options for further consideration.

In January resident Scott Stilson presented a request for backyard chickens to the Township Council, complete with a draft ordinance he and other residents assembled. It’s based on regulations in other Centre Region municipalities that already allow chickens — Harris and Patton townships and State College.

The council referred the issue to the Planning Commission. This wasn‘t the group’s first consideration of a small-lot chicken request. Another was made in 2009 and, at that time, staff also drafted an ordinance. However, the commission and council declined to approve it.

During Tuesday’s discussion, some commission members who were part of the 2009 discussion said they hold the same opinions on the concept.

Holdren offered four options — drafting a new ordinance, reducing the minimum lots size for agricultural uses, combining the first two options, or doing nothing.

Janet Sulzer said she remains in favor of chickens, but with limitations, like prohibiting roosters and other types of fowl. No other local municipality allows roosters, only chicken hens.

“As someone that grew up in the era when Woolworth’s had ducks and chicks at Easter time, I had some,” she said.

“You have to keep them safe. There are predators that will take them away. That’s why I’m saying coops.”

Others also were concerned about predators, but resident Jackie Bonomo, who helped write the sample ordinance, said they already exist.

“I’ve had my cat attacked by a hawk or an owl,” she said, adding she’s seen deer and bears.

“And I live in residential Lemont. The creek is down the hill, the mountain is up the hill. As far as encouraging predators, I think they’re already there.”

Harris Township was the last municipality to approve a residential chicken ordinance, about a year ago and after extensive debate. It allows residents to raise two to eight hens on lots less than 10 acres, depending on lot size. Those with lots as small as 3,000 square feet can raise two chickens.

College Township currently allows chickens and other livestock on agricultural zones, on lots that are at least 10 acres in size.

After a discussion earlier in the evening about allowing livestock to graze in the forest district, some commission members had concerns about lot sizes. However, they didn’t have an answer, and Holdren said he would present ranges for future discussion.

“Ten is too much but zero’s too little,” said new commission member Rich Francke.

Commission Chairman Ray Forziat said he leans toward keeping the 10-acre regulation and chickens as an agricultural use.