Katie Scanlan

Katie Scanlan with her backyard chickens.

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POTTSTOWN — The only person to have been fined in the last 16 months for keeping chickens in her backyard is the person trying to convince the borough to change the law making it illegal, a review of borough records shows.

And although the fine could have been as low as $50, she was fined $500, which, along with another $100 in associated court costs, pushed the total to $600, the maximum allowed by ordinance.

In the late fall of 2020, Katie Scanlan was informed a local ordinance makes it illegal in Pottstown to keep chickens in her backyard. But Scanlan says she was told she would have until spring to find them a new home.

In January, Scanlan began corresponding with borough officials about her chickens and the possibility of changing the law to allow them.

She wrote to Council President Dan Weand and Councilman Ryan Procsal on Feb. 1 to ask for time at a future meeting to explore the issue.

Procsal responded the same day and said as chairman of the "ordinance review committee," the matter had been discussed already, but she was welcome to address the next meeting in March or April.

That meeting occurred on April 21.

"The borough had told me I had until the first of spring to find a new home for the chickens. They also told me that before that time I would be able to present to the ordinance committee," Scanlan said in a March 9 message to The Mercury.

"That sequence of events did not occur, and I ended up getting a violation and citation and I had to beg to be put on the roster to be allowed to present to borough council," according to Scanlan.

On March 3, Scanlan provided a detailed presentation to council on the benefits of backyard chickens and measures that can be taken — a presentation that sparked a heated debate on borough council.

Four days later, she received the $600 summons in the mail from the borough. The citation was dated Feb. 11 but did not arrive at her home until March 6.

She has a July 13 court date before District Justice Edward Kropp Sr.

Chicken violation notice

On Feb. 11, days after contacting the borough about ways to make keeping chickens legal, Katie Scanlan was issued a violation notice and fined $500. The only person to be so cited in the last two years.

Two days after that, a sharply divided council voted 4-3 to send the matter back to the ordinance review committee for consideration.

One of the objections raised during those discussions was the cost of code enforcement and the burden it would place on borough police and code enforcement officers if chickens were allowed in the borough.

The point was made that many of the same complaints opponents said would be made about chickens — noise and smell —are made about dogs in the borough, but no one is suggesting dogs be outlawed.

A review of information provided to The Mercury by the borough in response to a March 9 Right-to-Know request shows that enforcement of Pottstown's animal control laws focuses almost entirely on dog feces.

Steve Morrisey, a second lieutenant with the Pottstown Police Department, informed Ginny Takach, the borough's right-to-know officer, that in 2020 police responded to 18 dog complaints and issued 39 violations.

The police responded to no complaints about chickens in 2020, or 2021, and, as of March 22, had not responded to any dog complaints either.

On April 5, Takach provided the second half of the borough's response to The Mercury's Right-to-Know request with copies of violation notices from the Licensing and Inspections Department.

They showed three citations issued in 2020, all for excessive dog feces, and one in March 2021 for the same offense.

It also included a Jan. 15, 2021, violation notice regarding chickens at a location in the 400 block of State Street, but there was no indication of any fine. Instead, the document indicated the household cited was ordered to remove the chickens.

There was no mention or copy of the summons and $500 fine issued to Scanlan, dated Feb. 11, provided as part of the response to the March 9 request.

Scanlan said the entire experience "has definitely been a deterrent" to participating in her government as a citizen.

"This was so well-intentioned, but I feel bad that it seems to be draining so many resources when Pottstown has bigger issues to contend with," she said. 

This article originally ran on pottsmerc.com.

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