Proposal to allow keeping chickens

As Lancaster City Council members attempted to balance the wishes of residents who wanted to keep backyard hens with the concerns of their neighbors, it was small size of city lots that was the biggest factor.

The typical lot in Lancaster City is 2,000 square feet, or less than .05 of an acre. Corner or duplex lots are often about 2,500 square feet.

Councilwoman Danene Sorace said during the May 4 Council committee meeting that it would be impossible for her neighbors not to see or smell hens if she kept them in her back yard.

City Council's Community Development and Planning Committee voted 3-0 on May 4 not to move forward with a proposal that would have revised the city animal ordinance to allow chickens. The decision came after extensive research and two months of deliberation.

Few Pennsylvania cities - often where lots are larger - have allowed hens. Yet, those cities have so severely restricted the areas where they are allowed that hens are essentially prohibited in neighborhood settings.

Philadelphia allows hens on properties of at least three acres in size. Harrisburg allows keeping them on properties of at least 40,000 square feet, or nearly an acre.

Harrisburg also requires that chickens be kept 75 feet from a from a property line.

City Council members and Mayor Gray said they were unwilling to support an ordinance that allowed residents to have hens, but made it so restrictive that few, if any, could actually do so.

Another primary concern was the cost of enforcing an ordinance that allowed hens. Randy Patterson, the city's economic development and neighborhood revitalization director, said expanding the city's ordinance to allow hens could require the hiring of a second animal enforcement officer and another housing inspector. His concern, however, was the additional workload on an already overburdened staff.

At the Council committee meeting, Patterson said he wasn't concerned about those seeking permission to keep hens. His concern was for those who would not follow the rules put in place.

Councilman James Reichenbach urged residents who wish to keep hens to look at alternatives. He suggested they approach School District of Lancaster school board members about keeping them on school property. Patterson suggested they talk to Lancaster County officials about allowing chicken coops at County Park, in much the same way the park rents garden plots.

Lancaster City Council is responsible for setting the policy and vision for the city. Council members attempt to do so while balancing the interests of all residents.