Now this is government efficiency.
On Monday, Bridgeville’s planning commission reviewed a proposed ordinance that would allow residents to keep a limited number of chickens in their backyards.
But after looking over the first draft of the ordinance, planning commissioners had numerous questions, and no immediate answers:
- Why does the ordinance allow four hens per yard? Why not three? Why not just one?
- Why is the proposed property setback calculated as distance-from-doors, rather distance-from-property-lines?
- Would allowing chickens in Bridgeville—a town that same say is currently overrun by rodents—result in Bridgeville being overrun by rodents?
- Does the borough have the manpower—and willpower—to crack down on chicken law violations that haven’t actually happened, but maybe, possibly, could happen some day?
Rather than spend time and money investigating the nuances of urban chicken law and learning from the experiences of neighboring, chicken-friendly communities, Bridgeville’s planning commissioners took a faster, more direct approach. They simply rejected the proposal.
With a 6-0 vote, the commissioners went on the record opposing backyard chickens (Dale Livingston was not present). The commission’s recommendation will be passed on to Bridgeville Borough Council, which will ultimately decide whether Bridgeville will open its backyards to the tiny-brained, egg-laying birds.
The planning commission’s swift dismissal of the proposal was surprising to some observers. Just three months ago, several planning commissioners seemed open, if not downright enthusiastic, about legalized chickens in Bridgeville.
“It sounds like a great idea from 30,000 feet,” said planning commissioner Mike Tolmer, “but when you start getting into it, it opens a can of worms, and we might see a lot of problems trying to control and regulate this.”
Larry Lennon Sr. agreed.
“The more I think about this, the less I support it,” he said. “I’m not sure that it’s worth spending a lot more money trying to fine-tune it unless there’s some significant support to adopt it.”
Only a handful of Bridgeville residents currently keep chickens in their backyards. The borough has temporarily suspended enforcement of its anti-chicken laws, but residents found harboring fowl will be fined and presumably have to give up their birds if borough council doesn’t amend its ordinances.
Many surrounding communities—including Mt. Lebanon—allow residents to keep backyard chickens. The municipalities also have ordinances that spell out strict requirements for keeping the birds. Although chickens eat mice and insects, poorly kept coops and loose feed can attract rats.
But this is all new to Bridgeville. And at the moment, a fear of the unknown seems to be the planning commission’s guiding principle on this matter, said former mayor Pat DeBlasio Jr. His critique led to this exchange:
DeBlasio Jr: Other [people] in the surrounding area have chickens without causing any issues for their neighbors.
Lennon Sr: You’re saying that, but I don’t know that and I don’t know what facts there are to support that.
DeBlasio Jr: That’s what I would have hoped the planning commission would have done — take a look at chickens and how they’re kept. I don’t know either. I don’t have chickens.
Planning commissioner Tim Nath said that he was originally receptive to the idea of permitting chickens in Bridgeville, but further research led to concerns about the borough’s ability to enforce whatever requirements in put into law.
Justine Cimarolli was the lone planning commissioner who seemed open to permitting chickens in the borough in some form. Although she has concerns about chickens attracting vermin, she qualified her vote against with proposal with “not as written.”
Bridgeville Borough Council meets on Monday, Dec. 14 via Zoom. It remains to be seen when, or if, they will re-visit Bridgeville’s chicken controversy.