Unity Township planners on Tuesday voted 5-1 to recommend to the township’s supervisors to keep a zoning ordinance relating to raising backyard chickens unchanged.
The township’s planning commission in February heard from about 10 residents who either supported or opposed changing the current zoning ordinance — in which chickens are considered farm animals and are not permitted to be kept on properties having fewer than two acres. Upon receiving the commission’s recommendation, supervisors will ultimately decide whether changing the current zoning ordinance is necessary.
Commissioner Tim Schultheis cast the lone dissenting vote. Though Schultheis acknowledged residents raising fowl on fewer than two acres are “in defiance of the ordinance,” he said taxpayers “should have a right to do with your property what you see fit, as long as you are not infringing on anybody else’s rights.”
He suggested a possible amendment to ordinance allowing for four to five chickens and no roosters. However, he said it would be too costly for the township to conduct inspections of chicken operations “no matter how much money the township would charge for a permit.”
“I feel that they could be allowed in a limited quantity,” he added.
However, the other members of the commission support keeping the ordinance unchanged.
Agreeing with Schultheis, commissioner Frank Novotny likened those currently in violation to “setting up an autonomous zone in defiance of the local ordinances.”
Novotny said he drove past one residence with backyard chickens.
“Frankly, I was appalled by what I saw,” he said.
He also noted the close proximity of houses in neighborhoods such as Lawson Heights as a reason to keep the current ordinance as is.
Likewise, commissioner Eric Turin said he saw chickens scattered throughout the yards of chicken owners within the township, some of which were “a complete mess.”
“How do you police something like that?” he asked. “You’re looking at time, money and effort to do this, and I don’t feel like we have that.”
Turin discussed reaching a compromise for the township’s more than 21,000 residents.
“I can’t think of a way to please everybody,” he said.
He also questioned how many residents of the township’s base population actually raise chickens.
“For a small percentage of people, how do you please 21,000 people when 100 or 1,000 people want to have chickens?” he asked. “I don’t see an easy answer, other than to keep the ordinance the way it is.”
Kristin and Jeff Kuhns of Range Street have been spearheading the effort to relax the township’s zoning regulations on backyard chickens — as the couple is appealing a zoning violation they received in July regarding the 20 birds they raise on a 0.46-acre lot in Lawson Heights.
After Tuesday’s meeting, Jeff Kuhns said, “We’ll keep fighting as long as possible.” He said the couple will likely pursue legal action at the county and state level. “It’s a federal issue, too,” he added.
He said his family would be open to compromise on a zoning ordinance amendment.
“We’ve always been open to compromises, but no one has offered anything yet. It’s all or nothing,” he said.
Commissioner Richard Donati brought up how neighborhoods such as Wimmerton prohibit raising chickens and other livestock.
“I’m voting tonight — not only by conscience — but also with what I’m restricted to,” he said. “I live in Wimmerton, and we have very strict covenants.”
Growing up on a 135-acre farm, commissioner Tom Baumann said his family raised chickens for 50 years.
“By the time I was old enough to hold a pitchfork, I was forking chicken manure,” he said. “And I’ll tell you, it stinks. And chickens are noisy.”
He said he’s been on the planning commission since before the zoning ordinance was enacted in 1991. When drafting the ordinance, he said planners took property value and “establishing good neighbors” into consideration.
“One of the reasons we were limited in what type of animals you could have based on the acreage of your plot was because you couldn’t have animals on too small of a lot because it impinges too much on the neighbors,” he said.
Jeff Kuhns previously said the issue with his family started as a “neighbor dispute.”
“We’re open to talk to the neighbors,” he said after Tuesday’s meeting. He added that his family’s chickens “don’t live that much longer,” as the Kuhnses got them two years ago.
In other business Tuesday, the planning commission approved preliminary and final site plans for U-Haul in Mountain Laurel Plaza along Route 30 to modify the existing grade of an area where U-Haul — and formerly Kmart — receives shipments for products sold in its onsite showroom.
“What we’re seeking to do is put in a loading dock to make it a little easier for our team to be able to load and unload products in an out of the back existing area,” said Mike Zemba, U-Haul’s area district vice president.
Zemba said this modification won’t impede traffic flow in the plaza.