Residents ruffle some feathers, make case for hens in borough

MONICA PRYTS | Allied NewsDon Huntington discusses his proposal for allowing backyard chickens in Grove City. He and other residents spoke at Monday night’s borough council meeting.

GROVE CITY – Don and Brenda Huntington feel like they have the community on their side when it comes to their hens.

“The future is to allow for chickens in the borough,” Huntington told Grove City council members at Monday night’s meeting.

The Huntingtons and 10 other residents spoke for nearly an hour during the public comment portion of the meeting, addressing the couple’s proposal to update a borough ordinance that currently prohibits chickens.

The majority of those individuals are in favor of the proposal, along with the 702 residents who signed Huntington’s petition.

“It’s not gonna hurt anybody,” Jeff Kochis said of allowing hens.

Taylor Pokrant, the borough’s code enforcement and zoning officer, explained that he received a call on May 17 from someone who lives near the Huntingtons to report they had chickens in their backyard.

Borough ordinance Section 151.12 reads, in part, “No cow, calf, swine, sheep, goat, chickens, geese or ducks shall be kept in any dwelling, part thereof, or yard.”

Pokrant, who said that ordinance was passed in 1965, issued a violation letter on June 1, asking them to get rid of the chickens.

Huntington has said that he bought the chickens after looking at the borough ordinance that covers animals; he did not see mention of chickens, which is under the section titled “minimum space, use and location requirements.”

The Huntingtons were granted a two-week extension on June 18, Pokrant said later.

In the meantime, Huntington has drafted some suggested regulations that he thinks responsible chicken owners should be able to follow if council does agree to update the ordinance.

He is proposing that backyard chicken owners pay a registration fee, have their yard reviewed by the code officer, take a class on chicken care, submit a site plan, keep food in sealed plastic containers, and use a secure enclosure.

The backyard chickens should be kept for non-commercial use and limited to up to eight hens, meaning no roosters.

The chickens must use a hen house during non-daylight hours, and there would also be guidelines for waste removal and sanitation practices.

At least nine towns in the region allow backyard chickens including Zelienople, Slippery Rock and Sharon, and they have reported very few problems, Huntington said.

Chickens are no more problematic than the animals already allowed in the borough, he said, adding that he sees no reason for denial other than personal prejudice.

“Our representatives must not tell us ‘I’m against it. I hate chickens,’” he said.

Bob Gropp spoke against the proposal, citing concerns that chickens carry diseases and that their feed attracts rats.

“There’s not a space. It’s not a barnyard,” he said.

Allowing backyard chickens could reduce property values in the borough, and he believes that Huntington could have had this issue clarified before buying the chickens.

Huntington later pointed out that he had called the borough building, and the voicemail message directed him to the borough’s website, where he found the list of ordinances.

The ordinance is meant to protect the community, and chickens are smelly and make noise, Gropp said.

Mrs. Huntington said the borough allows people to have potbelly pigs with few restrictions, and that cats and dogs create more waste than the hens, whose waste can be composted.

There aren’t chickens running at-large like loose cats and dogs. And other kinds of animal feed can attract rodents, she said.

“They run to greet us when they hear the deck door open,” she said of the hens, which are kept in a fenced-in backyard with a hen house.

They don’t crow like roosters, don’t spread disease like cats and dogs, and they don’t decrease property values.

Most of the Huntington’s neighbors didn’t know they had chickens until they were asked for their support, Mrs. Huntington said.

There’s the added benefit of getting healthy eggs from backyard hens, and they eat plant-destroying insects and ticks.

Her husband is a retired corrections officer and a veteran, and she has seen his quality of life improve thanks to the hens.

“I can’t believe in 2021 we’re arguing about chickens. Why chickens?” William Caldwell asked.

More people want them and like knowing where their eggs come from, and the time has come, Huntington said.

Several residents agreed that the proposed update shows that backyard chickens require work and care.

Council members should be open-minded, Kochis said.

Sophia Slivka and her father Jubal shared how they had a few backyard chickens but had to find new homes for them because of the ordinance.

Having chickens teaches responsibility, the girl said, with her father adding that it can be done responsibly.

Sebastian Anastasi, whose family asked the borough to allow them to have chickens in 2012 – the request was not granted – said that any objections are addressed in the proposed amendments and the borough’s existing ordinances.

His father, Vince, told council members that their personal opinions can’t get in the way, and that they need to keep an open mind.

Council will schedule a work session to further discuss the issue, President Mary Kay Mattocks said.

There will not a vote at that session, as the idea of amending an ordinance takes time, Pokrant said.

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