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Chicken coop construction clucking along in Penn Hills

May 21, 2018 GMT

There are 10 legal chicken coops in Penn Hills, and officials expect that number to keep growing — one cluck at a time.

“We are seeing, on average, two people a month applying for permission to have chickens on their property through the zoning hearing board,” said Damian Buccilli, a municipal planner.

For the first time since Penn Hills passed its chicken ordinance in October 2016, the board even has been asked to consider allowing a roost that would exceed the current four-hen limit plus a rooster, which the current rule doesn’t allow.

“We want to live as close to the land as possible and responsibly take care of whatever waste we have,” said Chloe Newman, 27, who with boyfriend John A. Holley asked the zoning hearing board for an exemption so they can raise 12 hens and one rooster on a half-acre property they are purchasing along Allegheny River Boulevard.

The couple, who are interested in eventually keeping honeybees on the property, are moving to Penn Hills from the city of Pittsburgh.

“We’re really excited that Penn Hills offers this ordinance. It’s something that needs to be supported,” Newman said.

The ordinance allows residents living on less than 5 acres to apply for special exceptions from the municipality’s zoning hearing board to raise up to four hens. Residents must register and obtain a building permit from the department of code enforcement to construct a coop.

Buccilli said the municipality wants all chickens registered, not to burden owners, but to ensure the health and safety of other residents.

“We want to make sure the chickens are in good health. They’re farm animals, not like dogs or cats,” he said. “We don’t want 100 chickens to break loose and pose health and safety concerns.”

Some people keep chickens without getting permits, though Buccilli doesn’t know how many.

“On average we’re sending notices for violations for people to register chickens once a month,” Buccilli said.

This happened to the Cook family in January when a neighbor complained about the egg-laying birds. Charles Cook, 51, was charged in April with failure to obtain an occupancy permit and failure to obtain a building permit. He is scheduled to face Magisterial District Judge Anthony DeLuca on Thursday.

The complaint, which noted chicken-related noises, prompted Cook to seek approval from the zoning hearing board, which was given.

But the process spoiled Cook’s experience with keeping chickens, and he is considering getting rid of them.

“There’s a whole bunch of red tape,” he said. “I never knew that trying to get eggs for my family on a property that I own would be this difficult. I’m just trying to get some eggs.”

Colleen Thomas has kept chickens in Penn Hills for 15 years — well before the municipality enacted regulations. She said she had no problem with the permitting process.

“I actually just went through the process,” Thomas said. “I called (Damian Buccilli) and he’s like the best employee there. He’s just a decent guy. He made it pretty easy. He came out and checked the pen to see if it’s within regulation. Then they hung up notices on the telephone pole, and I went to the hearing. They granted it.”

Thomas, 57, keeps four chickens in a coop she built for $16 using scrap wood in her backyard on Clair Avenue. She said she shares the eggs with neighbors, friends and family.

One neighbor, Michael Graves, said he enjoys Thomas’ eggs and that the chickens have never bothered him.

Since the rule was passed almost two years ago, Buccilli said, residents from surrounding areas have read the Penn Hills ordinance to see if something similar could be adopted in their communities. So far, only residents in Richland Township, Forest Hills, Penn Hills, Plum and the city of Pittsburgh allow chickens, with various restrictions.

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2325, dcarr@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dillonswriting.