Peters chicken saga continues

Published Jul 29, 2014 at 8:52 am (Updated Jul 29, 2014 at 8:52 am)

Peters Township Council is sharply divided on the issue of whether chickens are pets or farm animals, with one member saying during a July 28 meeting that there are more important issues in the township than poultry.

When the Lucas family appealed a citation to the township zoning hearing board July 15 that six chickens in the back yard of their Cornerstone Court house were farm animals, the family of five was permitted to keep the egg layers because, under the board’s interpretation of the township code, chickens are classified as pets.

Well, maybe. Maybe not.

Chickens are clearly defined as pets under the township code. However, chickens are farm animals under the township’s zoning ordinances.

Councilman Gary Stiegel Jr., who is usually quiet during meetings, was quick to respond that he felt it was “ridiculous” to even be discussing the issue.

“We have a far worse problem of barking dogs,” Stiegel said.

Councilman Frank Arcuri said he found it strange township ordinances permit a horse on two acres of land, for recreational use only, but require chickens to be kept on 10 acres or more, a definition of a farm under current ordinances.

Council Chairman James Berquest chimed in that a pet may differ depending on the resident.

“Is a pig a pet?” Berquest asked. He added council needs to redefine what is a pet and, when it comes to chickens, how many a property owner may house.

“I’d rather have a chicken than a barking dog next to me,” Stiegel said.

Township Manager Michael Silvestri said the Lucas property is a third of an acre and the zoning officer issued the citation under the animal control portion of the code. The Lucas family has only hens, no roosters. Silvestri said there are chickens at a property along Thompsonville Road that also has a rooster. Roosters are needed to produce chickens. Hens lay eggs that may or may not be fertilized by a rooster.

According to Silvestri, a neighbor of the Thompsonville property complained of the rooster noise as a family member is ill.

Citing ambiguity between the code and zoning ordinance, Berquest said council should clarify the differences.

Solicitor John Smith said council could limit the number of chickens on one property, with Arcuri adding restrictions could be placed on the size of the lot, or by prohibiting the chickens from running free.

“I always thought chickens were a farm animal,” Berquest said. “How do you define a pet? One person’s pet is another person’s nuisance.”

Councilman David Ball suggested someone look up the definition of a domestic animal.

No decision was made July 28. Additional discussion is expected at the next meeting Aug. 11.

Stiegel said he was contacted by a number of residents who felt the issue was being overblown.

Until additional action is taken by council, the chickens on Cornerstone Court stay.

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