McMURRAY – Six hens in Peters Township may live in an outdoor coop and lay eggs, because according to the township’s zoning hearing board and its interpretation of township ordinances, chickens are family pets.
And, according to members of the Lucas family who own the hens and coop at their house at 100 Cornerstone Court in Venetia, the hens have names – Scratchy, Junebug, Ethel, Lorraine, Daisy and Email. What the family does not have is a rooster.
The family of five eats the organic eggs, but not the chickens.
After receiving complaints from a few neighbors, the township investigated the coop on the .31-acre corner lot in the Cornerstone Plan, and issued a citation in accordance with the township ordinance that livestock must be kept on a farm, defined in ordinances as being on 10 acres or more.
The Lucas family, including three young children, hired an attorney, Brian C. Devine, and appealed the citation. The hearing before the board was held Tuesday evening. None of the neighbors who complained attended.
Daniel Lucas testified he has an 8-by-4-foot coop in the yard that houses the hens. He said the chicks were purchased when each was about two weeks old and lived inside the house, interacting with the family and the family dogs, until being moved to the coop in the yard. Lucas also testified he has no plans to sell the chickens, eggs or feathers for profit.
Attorney Devine described the coop as like “a charming child’s playhouse,” adding it is not an eyesore. Lucas and Devine agreed the property is definitely not a farm as it does not meet the 10-plus-acre requirement, but that the chickens are pets, not farm animals, hence they are permitted under the ordinance.
Lucas was the only one to testify, flanked in the audience by his wife, three children and a supportive neighboring family.
Whether chickens and chicken coops are prohibited by the Cornerstone Plan’s homeowners’ association did not factor in the board’s decision.
Board chairman James Federlein said even if the wording of an ordinance was vague and ambiguous, the decision always favors the applicant.
“All we are to do is to interpret the ordinances,” Federlein said during the 40-minute hearing. And since chickens are specifically referenced as being permitted in the small domestic animal section of the ordinance, along with dogs, cats, rabbits, mice, rats, and guinea pigs, the requirement of being kept on a farm is moot.
Following the decision by the board, the Lucas family and Devine, also a Peters Township resident, were pleased.
“This a new thing,” Devine said of raising chickens in residential yards. “It is a trend.”