County planners discuss chickens moving to the city

With the economy in the throes of an extended downturn, people throughout the nation are looking for ways to save a buck.

One way? Urban chickens individuals living in residential areas that raise a small number of chickens.

“Lately, (urban chickens) has been a rising trend not only locally but across the state and the nation, in fact,” County Zoning Officer Aaron Kalkbrenner said during a Warren County Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Tuesday night.

He explained that the County Planning and Zoning Office has “received a couple of complaints regarding regulations governing fowl and unconventional pets. Right now, fowl is considered a farm animal.”

In many zoning districts, including residential zones, that means for one to have chickens, they must be kept 150 feet from all property lines.

The problem? Many residential parcels are smaller than the 300 feet by 300 feet that would be required, according to the zoning ordinance.

Kalkbrenner outlined the concerns that allowing urban chickens would present. “Namely, noise,” he said. “Roosters are always loud. To some neighbors it can be quite a nuisance.”

Odor is another concern. “There is a myth (that) fowl manure is great for gardens. (It is) high in nitrogen and needs to be composted.”

An additional potential problem is an increase in predators. “Chickens are at the bottom of the food chain a lot of times (and) attract predators.” He also explained that the weeds that grow along chicken wire can provide space for mice and rats.

While the concerns are numerous, Kalkbrenner noted that there has been no official statistics to indicate that the presence of urban chickens affects property values.

He also outlined some solutions to the concerns and possibilities for regulation.

“Limit the number of chickens allowed in the lot,” he said. “(A) common one across the board is no roosters. (It) helps out the neighbors. Chickens need to be confined not only for nuisance sake but for safety.”

In his review of other ordinances that permit urban chickens, three square feet per chicken is the recommended size for chicken coups. On property setbacks, Kalkbrenner said that Pittsburgh has established a 50-foot rule but “there are more (and) there are less” in other places.

The other regulation suggestions he mentioned were to require “visual screening from neighboring properties (and) only allow slaughtering of chickens indoors.”

“What brought this on was residential lot size,” he said to the commission members. Several residents of Pleasant Township, in support of urban chickens, were in attendance on Tuesday. He said that someone who wanted to have chickens did not have the 150-foot required setback and is “asking the commission to suggest a change.”

“The other option,” Kalkbrenner explained, “(is to) throw (chickens) in with the nuisance ordinance,” and treat them in a similar manner to barking dogs.

County Planner Dan Glotz said that a similar issue arose in Conewango Township. “(What) we’re seeing the most is the limitation only to hens and a limitation of four to six (chickens) in the smaller residential areas.”

“My feeling is, (if) this is the route we want to go, not changing the ordinance, is the nuisance ordinance thing,” commission chairman Dale Forbes said.

Glotz noted that nuisance ordinances are typically handled at the local, not the county, level.

Kalkbrenner noted that not all municipalities in Warren County have a nuisance ordinance.

The commission tasked county staff with working with the residents in support of urban chickens to come up with a proposal to be presented its Sept. 3 meeting.