A proposal to reverse a Luzerne County zoning ordinance ban on chickens in residential areas didn’t advance to the full County Council for consideration Tuesday because council’s operational services committee was locked in a tie vote on the matter.
Committee members Stephen A. Urban and Stephen J. Urban supported forwarding the proposal, saying property owners should be free to keep a few hens for sustainable living as long as they’re not creating a nuisance.
Committee members Tim McGinley and Jim Bobeck voted against proceeding, largely because officials have not expressed support for the change in the 23 municipalities covered by county zoning.
Another vote may be taken next month to break the tie because committee Chairman Rick Williams was absent due to another commitment.
County Interim Planning/Zoning Director Nancy Snee told the committee Tuesday changes must apply to all 23 municipalities, and she does not recommend allowing chickens in residential areas. She presented letters from representatives of several urban municipalities covered by the county ordinance opposing the change, including Hughestown, West Wyoming, Duryea, Laflin, Larksville and Newport Township.
The zoning ordinance should “reflect the attitudes and preferences” of neighborhoods and municipalities as a whole — not of individual property owners, Snee said. If the ordinance remains intact, property owners still have the right to request a variance to allow chickens, and neighbors and municipal officials can weigh in, she said.
Officials in Dupont, which also is covered by the county, gave Snee a letter saying they were receptive to allowing chickens as poultry, but they want permission granted through variances so input from neighbors is sought in each request.
Larksville resident Brinley Crahall Jr. urged the committee to reject an amendment, saying thousands of residents could be subjected to a nuisance. Crahall said Pringle resident Christine Dixon, who requested the amendment, may keep her coop pristine and have quiet animals, but others won’t.
“The potential is there for a big headache,” Crahall said.
Dixon’s partner, Robert Maximowicz, said the couple’s immediate neighbors have no problem with the three hens she keeps for eggs. He said his home and property are well maintained and invited officials to visit.
“It’s quieter than your meetings,” he said of Dixon’s chicken coop.
Hazleton resident Mark Rabo advised the committee to refuse the request, saying enforcement would be difficult. He predicted some would try to get away with keeping roosters and said cockfighting has been a problem in other areas.
Lackawanna County resident Evan Zavada, who keeps hens, said arguments against the amendment are “weak.” County officials should allow residents to enjoy the health benefits of raising their own chickens for eggs and meat, he said.
In other business Tuesday, council’s correctional services committee voted to ask the legislative committee to draft a letter urging federal legislators to continue and increase funding for illegal immigrants housed in the county prison for local crimes. The county spent an estimated $1.7 million on 184 undocumented inmates in the 2012-13 fiscal year and received $130,081 in federal funding to offset costs of personnel.