After a neighbor complains, will backyard chickens fly?

| 04 Jan 2017 | 11:50

The Tarylas’ three backyard hens are living well. Joli Taryla feeds them organic feed, and has experimented with mixing her own grains. She and her husband had been “chomping at the bit” to get chickens on their acre in Dingman Township, PA — to feed their two children fresh eggs and to teach them responsibility. As it turned out, the family was about to get a real-time lesson in civics, too.

After the chickens were mistakenly let out of their run, a neighbor on their dead-end street complained, and the Tarylas received a letter from a zoning officer. It happened that the zoning officer was “a chicken sympathizer,” Taryla said, who had petitioned the township to lower the acreage required to raise chickens a couple years earlier, to no avail. As things stand, Dingman residents must own at least 10 acres to be allowed to have chickens at all (although people have been known to quietly disobey that requirement).

Taryla decided to try again to change the rules. On the advice of the sympathizer, she would narrow her quest: instead of trying to change the ordinance for the entire 60-square-mile township, she would focus on her small zone.

Taryla, a stay-at-home mom and bartender, got busy researching. She found ordinances written for comparable Pennsylvania townships and brought them to the next board meeting, along with a document signed by all eight neighbors on her street (including the one who’d complained) saying they didn’t mind the chickens as long as they were locked up.

She makes clear that she is all for constraints: no roosters, restrictions on the number of chickens you can have and where chicken housing can be placed, a permit fee. She’s even in favor of inspections.

“Restrict us, charge us an annual fee, just let us have them,” she said.

So far, the cause looks promising. “The Board of Supervisors didn’t hate the idea,” Taryla reported. Now it’s in the hands of the Planning Board. In the meantime, Taryla is allowed to keep her hens until a decision is made. Then she’ll have to abide by it.

“I am within sight of the Township Board, too, so I can’t skate by on this,” she laughed. Given that her husband is a contractor who does municipal work, she will be playing it by the book.

Some people have asked, what’s the big fuss over three chickens? Why not just follow the rules?

“It is our right and our responsibility,” said Taryla, “to petition our government.”