Chickens, bees welcome in code change

A proposed amendment to the joint zoning code governing Avalon, Bellevue and Ben Avon would allow urban farmers to add chickens and bees to their back yards.

The issue first came up at an Avalon Council meeting well over a year ago, when a young couple new to the borough asked if they could have a couple chickens, as is permitted in the City of Pittsburgh and other area municipalities. It was determined at that time that the joint zoning code prohibited keeping chickens on lots as small as most are in any of the three boroughs. By that time, however, Bellevue had already allowed chickens at a couple homes, although no law regulated how many chickens and the type of housing that could exist.

With growing concern over the safety of commercial food sources and the use of antibiotics, genetic modification and chemicals, not to mention questions about the humane treatment of factory farm animals, urban farming has grown in popularity, and communities have worked to find ways to work the practice into the urban environment.

The amendment proposed by the Joint Planning Commission (JPC) allows for chickens to be kept in the back yards of single family homes for non-commercial use, but also sets regulations for the welfare of both the chickens and neighboring property owners.

Up to three chickens -- no roosters -- can be kept on lots of at least 2,000 square feet in Avalon and Bellevue. Ben Avon has chosen not to allow chickens to take up residence. One additional chicken -- up to a maximum of six -- is permitted for each additional 2,000 square feet of lot size.

The chickens must be housed in an enclosed coop and provided with an enclosed run. Coops must be at least six square feet in size, with an additional two square feet of coop space provided for every chicken over the first one. The coops must be water, predator and vermin proof, and able to be cleaned easily. They must provide adequate ventilation.

The runs -- open areas where the chickens can roam -- must be enclosed by predator-proof fencing, and must be at last 10 square feet in size, with an additional 10 square feet of space provided for each chicken over one.

The chickens must have access to clean food and water at all times, and manure must be disposed of by composting or in a closed container.Butchering chickens is prohibited, as is the sale of eggs, chickens or manure.

The ordinance also regulates the placement of coops and runs, which must be placed at least 12 feet from a side property line, and 20 feet from a back property line. They are not permitted in front yards.

Bee hives also will be permitted on residential lots of at least 2,000 square feet. Two hives can be placed on a lot that small, with another 3,000 square feet of property needed to place each additional hive, up to a maximum of 15.

Hives must be set back at least 20 feet from any property line, and also are not permitted in front yards.”Flyway barriers” at least six feet high must be installed any place along the property line within 20 feet of a hive. The hives also must be situated so that the bees first swarm across the owner’s property before reaching neighboring yards.

The beekeeping portion of the ordinance allows renters to have hives, but they must have written permission from the property owner. Hive keepers also must be registered with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and must comply with all state regulations.

There were few comments from the public at the hearing held in Bellevue Council chambers on Tuesday, but council member Linda Woshner was concerned about chickens and bees not being properly maintained. She suggested a height restriction on coops, and that they only be permitted on property that is already “well maintained.”

The JPC also proposed an amendment regulating the placement of medical marijuana dispensaries that effectively limits them to Route 65 because of the required distances from schools, churches, etc that are set by state law.

Both amendments must be approved on three readings by all three boroughs.