A proposal to change the borough's animal ordinances to allow backyard chickens has some officials crying "fowl."

Currently, Pottstown's animal ordinance prevents the keeping of "farm animals" in the borough, including cows, pigs, horses, and yes, chickens.

It seems that the urban chicken movement, if there is such a thing, is underway in Pottstown and despite the ordinance preventing it, many people already have backyard coops.

And a movement is growing to legalize the keeping of cluckers rather than make all those who raise them in Pottstown hard-boiled poultry pirates.

The idea has evidently been discussed already by council's "ordinance review committee."

But before the recommendation, if there is one, could be outlined Wednesday night, council permitted Katie Scanlan, Pottstown's very own self-professed "Crazy Chicken Lady," to make the case for allowing backyard chicken coops.

She was invited by Mayor Stephanie Henrick, who also supports the change to allow chicken raising. 

Scanlan, who has a background in education, said she believes the best approach is to create a permit for people to keep chickens.

The ordinance could limit the chickens based on the amount of property. She suggested a ratio of no more than four hens per a tenth of an acre. Further, each chicken requires three feet of coop area and 10 square feet of "run" area.

To obtain the permit, which would cost $40 and need to be recertified every three years for $20, anyone looking to take up backyard bird husbandry would need to show they had taken a free online class to learn the basics.

"Chickens are not easy," Scanlan said. "I'm not suggesting everyone get them."

Additionally, anyone seeking the permit would need to present forms signed by the neighbors saying they do not object to having hens in the neighborhood.

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When it became obvious one of her chickens was a rooster, white bird at right, Katie Scanlan realized he could not stay in Pottstown because his crowing would disturb the neighbors. She gave him to a farm.

"It's important to have the neighbors on board," Scanlan said.

The permit could be revoked by the borough at any time, she suggested.

Scanlan has also suggested the ordinance change not allow roosters.

"For Pottstown, roosters are really noisy. Really noisy," Scanlan said simply. 

Despite these proposed restrictions, there are many upsides to chicken husbandry, not the least of which are the eggs, Scanlan said.

Educationally, it's good to teach children where their food comes from, she said.

Nutritionally, eggs from the backyard have more vitamin D than those from the supermarket, she said. And "they taste better," Scanlan insisted, offering to flip over an omelet made with her chickens' eggs to any council member so inclined to test her assertion.

Environmentally, "chicken manure is incredibly valuable as compost," said Scanlan, noting that Dan Price, who runs Pottstown's two community gardens, supports the change and, presumably, would be happy to have the manure.

Also, chickens also "eat anything" and can help control fleas and ticks, said Scanlan.

Councilman Joe Kirkland who, it turns out, "grew up on a farm where we had upwards of 200 chickens," said he supports the idea with the controls Scanlan outlined.

Also speaking in support was Councilwoman Lisa Vanni, who said she "has gone back and forth on the issue."

But ultimately, she said, her research supported the idea.

"The world is changing whether we like it or not and people do want to source their own food," said Vanni. As an example, Vanni said she has turned an upstairs bedroom into a vegetable garden.

Vanni also said she feels it's important to "listen to our constituents." Scanlan had said a Change.org petition she posted attracted more than 200 signatures in just two days.

Council President Dan Weand observed that 200 people may have signed the petition but Pottstown has 23,000 people "and so far they have been silent on this issue."

He further argued that "all these people who already have chickens are in violation of the ordinance," and changing the ordinance would reward these cooped-up criminals and their semi-secret chickens.

Councilwoman Trenita Lindsay said she too supports the idea but is worried about the smell.

"My only concern is I get complaints about dog poop and I don't want complaints about chicken poop too," she said.

Borough Manager Justin Keller said in the last three years, police and codes have collectively received about 11 complaints about chickens including, chickens crossing the road.

Keith Place, director of the licensing and inspections department, said he himself has had chickens, "so I am familiar with the issues." 

Animal Control Officer Jon Daywalt is on the front lines of dealing with Pottstown's chicken complaints and said at one site off Manatawny Street, he had to chase down 15 to 20 chickens.

Daywalt and Councilman Don Lebedynsky predicted that renters who get chickens and then get evicted, would simply leave the chickens behind, making them easy pickings for dogs and foxes "who want an easy chicken dinner."

"You want to deny 200 people having chickens because one or two might leave and leave them behind?" Kirkland asked somewhat incredulously.

"We can always come up with scenarios of what will go wrong," Kirkland said. "If you're just coming up with stuff out of thin air, that's being set in your opinion."

He added, "I understand people are set in their opinion and they're not going to change no matter what, but we can't deny people the right to do something that's not affecting their neighbors," Kirkland said.

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One of Katie Scanlan's cluckers poses for her close up.

Henrick pointed out that there are those in Pottstown who have dogs that bother their neighbors but dogs are still allowed in the borough.

"If it doesn't work, we can stop it," added Vanni, which is exactly what happened in the City of Reading, said Daywalt. "Reading did this for a while, and they revoked it because it got so bad with the smell."

But other communities seem to manage it, like Conshohocken, Henrick argued.

"If Conshohocken can do it, and they're like a city, Pottstown can do it," she said.

"They're not asking to put a slaughterhouse in their yard or have cows or pigs. They want to have their own eggs," said Vanni. "If we remain so close-minded and don't listen to people, we're not doing them a service."

Keller said he did not want the council to think he is taking sides.

"You do get bad actors. It's not the majority of the people, but they can ruin it for others. A lot of bad actors don't respond to fines and code enforcement and I just want you to keep that in mind," Keller says. "You heard the upside, we're obligated to give you the negatives."

Three members of the public, Marie Haigh, Darlene Bainbridge and Kelsey Schwenk all spoke in favor of allowing chickens.

Schwenk said she and her husband would like to raise chickens and volunteered to be part of a pilot program to see if an ordinance change can work.

"Don't let a few rotten eggs spoil the bunch for the rest of us," Schwenk said.

Weand said the matter will be put on Wednesday's agenda for a vote to see if a majority of the council wants to move forward with a change on this issue.

This article first appeared (with many more puns) as a post in The Digital Notebook blog.

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