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Western Pa. governments tackle bee, chicken conundrums

Mary Pickels
gtrbirdsandbees1070216
Evan R. Sanders | Tribune-Review
Chickens peck for feed thrown by Christopher Rob of Latrobe on Thursday, June 30, 2016. He has been participating with 4-H programs for years on his parents' property.
gtrbirdsandbees2070216
Evan R. Sanders | Tribune-Review
Christopher Rob of Latrobe throws feed to a group of chickens on his parents' property on Thursday, June 30, 2016.

The growth of the farm-to-table movement is spurring governments throughout the region to adopt or consider ordinances regulating the bees and chickens people are raising in their residential backyards for fresh honey and eggs.

And striking a balance between those who want to know where their food is coming from and neighbors worried about noise, odors or bee stings can be challenging.

Latrobe — which has a proposed ordinance regulating beekeeping and is considering amending its rules for keeping chickens — is a prime illustration of that challenge.

Latrobe code enforcement officer Ann Powell said she often gets calls from people asking about chicken and bee regulations.

“They want fresh eggs, they want honey,” she said.

But on the other side are people like Tacoma Avenue resident Paul Houck.

“I believe in preserving the integrity of residential areas. If I was in the market to buy a house … and the house next door had chickens, that would turn me away. I think it would devalue the property,” he said. “I think the more chickens you have, the more noise and odor you will have. I certainly don’t want it in my neighborhood.”

April Rob raises, shows and sells chickens from her Cook Township residence, where no ordinances regulate keeping the birds.

A Westmoreland County 4-H Club poultry leader, she has seen a rise in chicken ownership from people seeking pets or a fresh source of eggs and meat.

She fears increasing municipal regulations could affect 4-H Club members in the region, but said she understands the concerns of those who don’t want chickens in their neighbor’s backyard.

“I get that you don’t want to have 50 chickens in someone’s backyard that is only one lot,” she said.

Latrobe is considering amending its animal ordinance to address concerns like Houck’s. The amendment would allow two chickens on lots from 5,000-7,000 square feet, up to a maximum of eight on lots 21,000 square feet or larger.

“Right now, they (owners) can do whatever they want to do,” city Manager Wayne Jones said.

In August, Latrobe is expected to consider several regulation changes about the raising of chickens or bees. They include:

• Chickens can be kept only for non-commercial purposes.

• Coop size regulation, with enclosures restricted to rear of property.

• No roosters.

• No on-site slaughter.

• Beehives must face away from nearest neighboring property.

• Honey sales must comply with state and federal laws.

• Multiple bee stings or attacks considered public nuisances punishable by removal of hives or receptacles.

Other communities vary in their approach to regulating the farm-to-table enthusiasts. For instance, Delmont has a “no poultry” law, North Huntingdon requires a homeowner to have at least 10 acres to raise chickens, and Greensburg has no regulations.

Greensburg planning director Barbara Ciampini said, absent complaints, chicken and beekeeping have not become issues in the city.

“We don’t try to legislate everything,” she said.

In Allegheny County, residents in Richland Township, Forest Hills, Plum and the city of Pittsburgh all allow chickens, with various restrictions. Pittsburgh’s Urban Agriculture Zoning Code also permits regulated beekeeping.

Jeanette Wolff is a beekeeper in Latrobe who worries about how the proposed regulations in her city will impact her hobby. The Westmoreland County Beekeepers Association member purchased three beehives for her East First Avenue home four years ago and enjoys gifting family members with honey she is able to produce.

She was among several residents concerned about the ordinance the city is considering to regulate the keeping of bees — something Solicitor Zach Kansler said is needed in the “interest of public health and safety.”

“My concern as an individual and a licensed beekeeper who has bees within the city limits … is what provisions are made to protect the interests of those of us who are already keeping bees within the city,” Wolff said.

Beekeeper input will result in some revisions to that section, Kansler said, including the likely elimination of a proposed mandatory completion of certified beekeeping classes. He said the city is not trying to make things more difficult for beekeepers or those who raise chickens.

“The chickens are here. We are just trying to make sure they are being kept according to best practices,” he said. “We had to do something to supply some kind of clear restrictions. We are trying to bridge that gap between the two (conflicting) sides.”

Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or [email protected].

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