Nearly four years after Derry Borough Council passed an ordinance prohibiting residents from raising chickens within borough limits, some in town are calling for the restriction to be lifted.
Resident Frank Denara, of Walters Street, said he was recently issued a warning of a code violation for chickens he keeps on his property. He suggested the borough’s ordinance banning chickens, approved in 2016, should allow residents to apply for permits to keep the birds rather than banning them outright.
Council on Oct. 17, 2016, held a public hearing on the ordinance regarding the keeping of animals (including chickens) in the borough. No members of the public commented. Council then voted to approve the ordinance, with councilman Jim Ritenour offering the only opposing vote. Of the council members who voted on the ordinance in 2016, only Al Checca and Ritenour remain on council.
“I think there’s a way we can get around not making it a free-for-all,” Denara said. “Not an amendment but just a permit application. There’s proximity, there’s the number of people that have chickens and permits issued, there’s ways we can control it and not cause a frenzy like some of the people are mentioning. I think we could make some rules and guidelines to try to fix that problem.”
Checca noted that the warning Denara was issued for violating the ordinance and any potential amendments to the ordinance to loosen restrictions on raising chickens are two separate issues.
“It’s a law that’s on the books in our ordinance book,” solicitor Lee Demosky said of the existing prohibition on chickens in the borough.
“There’s no application process. There’s no appeal process (to allow for an exception to the ordinance)... It’s not a zoning matter,” Demosky said. “It’s basically a law matter. The law is on the books.”
Police Chief Randy Glick described the process regarding the code violation, saying that Denara has already been issued a warning and was made aware of the violation. If the violation isn’t addressed within 30 days, a citation could then be filed in district court.
“If you go there and sit in (Magisterial District Judge Mark Bilik’s) office and say ‘I love my chickens, I’m not going to do anything about it,’ he’s probably going to set up some sort of fine that could actually occur daily,” Glick said. “If you go there with any other kind of explanation other than ‘I’m just going to keep them no matter what,’ he’s most likely going to give you 30 days to fix your problem.”
Chad Fabian, who was council president when the ordinance was approved, said the borough shouldn’t reverse course on the chicken ban. Fabian and others cited health concerns regarding chicken feces potentially being carried away to neighboring properties by rainfall.
Resident Ernie Menz was supportive of changing the ordinance, saying the COVID-19 pandemic has fostered a renewed interest in self-sufficiency measures like backyard gardening and raising chickens. He compared residents keeping chickens to those who have dogs or cats as pets in the borough. Many residents already keep dogs and cats in the borough, he said, without widespread concern over pet waste causing problems for neighbors.
Council president Grant Nicely said the cost of amending the ordinance could be around $3,000 when accounting for the costs of having the solicitor draft the amendment, purchasing advertisements and enlisting a court reporter to attend the required public hearing.
“I can tell you the cost to change the ordinance is high,” Nicely said. “We would have to look at this very carefully. There are people in town who would like to have the chickens. There are people who don’t want the chickens.”
Nicely appointed a “chicken committee” to weigh the situation and potential changes to the borough’s ordinance, including members of council and residents. No meeting dates for the new committee were established during Monday’s meeting.
Another item that generated significant discussion was a proposal Nicely had broached at council’s July 6 work session that would provide elected officials in the borough — council members and the mayor — with free individual pool passes for Derry Community Pool and allow them to purchase family passes at a 50% discount for the 2020 pool season.
“You have to remember that as a community, we have the lowest-paid elected officials around,” Nicely said. “We actually took a half cut in our pay several years ago. People think that we come here and we have a meeting twice a month and we spend an hour or an hour and a half doing it. How many hours do you think we actually spend on the phone, going to visit people, talking to people, how many hours per week to we do this? I’m not asking anything for myself. I don’t go to the pool... I spend an average of 15 to 20 hours a week, and if you look at my public record pay, I get $25.”
The idea didn’t gain much traction, with multiple residents speaking out against the proposed perk.
Elected officials voting to award themselves such perks, several residents said, presented a bad image for the borough and made it appear that the officials “could be bought,” with special considerations from other businesses or individuals. Others worried that giving elected officials free passes for the 2020 pool season would set a precedent that would continue and cause past elected officials or appointees to borough boards and commissions to expect free passes as well.
Fabian suggested any elected official who wants a free pool pass should be required to provide at least 20 hours of volunteer service at the pool for the year.
Solicitor Lee Demosky noted that any motion to provide elected officials with such perks would need to include the provision that the motion is subject to review by the borough’s solicitor and auditor. Ultimately, no motion was made to provide elected officials with free or discounted pool passes.
In other items pertaining to the pool, council approved pay raises for lifeguards and other pool employees, and voted to approve the purchase of a new piece of equipment for the pool’s concession stand.
Council unanimously approved increasing the hourly wages to $8.50 for returning lifeguards who had worked at the pool previously, $8.25 for lifeguards in their first season at the pool or any new lifeguards, and $8 for employees in the pool’s concession stand and front desk areas.
Prior to the changes, the highest-paid lifeguards at the pool were paid $7.65 per hour, Hixson noted, with many pool employees paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25.
Hixson estimated the pay raises would add around $1,000 to the pool’s monthly expenses.
Council also approved the purchase of a new slushie machine for the pool concession stand at a cost not to exceed $2,000.
The council also tackled confusion over what days residents are permitted to burn yard waste, directing Demosky to draft an amended burning ordinance to allow burning on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Under the existing ordinance, with the exception of camp or recreational fires, open burning of yard waste including trees, logs, brush, and stumps is only allowed on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday of the second and fourth week of each month.
Burning garbage including plastics, cardboard, and all other hazardous items is prohibited, according to the ordinance.
Proponents of the change said the current wording of the burning ordinance lends itself to confusion as residents may be uncertain whether a particular Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday is considered part of a week during which burning is allowed or banned. Council vice president Al Checca opposed the motion, saying the change doubles the number of legal burning days each month.
Council also directed Demosky to draft an amendment to rename a section of North Ligonier Street as North Ligonier Street Extension following the removal of a bridge that had carried the street over a flood control channel. The name change is intended to make it easier for emergency responders to locate addresses in the area.
In other business, council approved:
- Changing tax map numbers for a previously approved subdivision plan for a property on 304 S. Chestnut St., consolidating two lots into one. The original consolidation plan, approved by council in October, had the tax map numbers for the two lots reversed;
- Reappointing Alfred Young to a term on the Zoning Hearing Board expiring Dec. 31, 2023;
- Sending a draft Stormwater Ordinance from the Westmoreland Conservation District to borough engineering firm Gibson-Thomas Engineering Co. Inc. for review;
- A subrecipient agreement amendment with Westmoreland County for Community Development Block Grant funds.