Roaring Spring bans raising chickens in town

ROARING SPRING – You’ve got to lose the birds, but you can keep the bees.

After a hearing that drew more discussion than one veteran councilman said he’d seen in decades, the Roaring Spring Borough Council voted Monday to strictly curtail in-town agriculture while carving out legal exceptions for gardeners and beekeepers.

In barring livestock, the council stopped one family’s nascent egg-raising plans and bucked a nationwide trend toward urban chicken ownership.

“I just can’t believe that I’m trying to put food on my table, and you’re trying to take it away,” Adam Frederick, who fought for the right to own three chickens, told the seven-member council. Frederick and his wife, Brenda, called council members “anti-agriculture” at a Monday zoning board hearing.

In the small borough with a long agricultural heritage, it was once common to see goats and chickens in backyards, the Fredericks said. Even former mayors kept livestock outside their homes.

But council members – and the current mayor, Ron Glunt – said changing times dictate clear restrictions on farm animals in the densely populated town.

The zoning changes and an accompanying ordinance bar agriculture from any lot smaller than five acres – a rule that effectively eliminates any farming in Roaring Spring.

“We’re meeting the law,” Council President Bill Brumbaugh said. “And the county agrees with us.”

The new rule prohibits “vicious, dangerous, carnivorous or wild or exotic animals” and, outside the severely limited farm allowance, bans “chicken, fowl, sheep, cow, goat, equine or any other farm or barnyard animal.”

It also sets clear rules on noise, odors and waste for those animals still permitted.

The zoning ordinance’s broad language drew concerns from some both in and out of Roaring Spring, including a gardener and a Taylor Township beekeeper. The Fredericks and their supporters had pointed out references to “horticulture” in the new rule – some could interpret the language as banning even small greenhouses and home gardens.

Regis Nale, a representative of a three-county beekeepers’ association, urged council members to exempt bees from the ordinance. Just as many urban farmers have taken to raising chickens, he said, cities including New York have liberalized their laws on backyard bees.

A yearslong legal battle in nearby Hollidaysburg ended in 2010 with an affirmation of beekeepers’ right to raise the honeymaking insects outside their homes, supporters noted Monday.

In response, Borough Council members struck out the bee ban and added language exempting noncommercial home gardens. The zoning change and ordinance passed unanimously.

“No one’s trying to deprive you of feeding your family,” Solicitor Larry Lashinsky told the Fredericks, who had gathered signatures on a pro-chicken petition. “[But] they’re going to make a decision. And it doesn’t always go the way you want it or they want it.”

Despite some dissension, council members applauded the Fredericks’ willingness to fight their battle for months. Veteran Roaring Spring representative and employee Charles Yingling, set to leave his post at age 79 this month, said he never saw such a meeting in his 25 years as borough secretary.

The Fredericks didn’t stay for the final vote. Both said they knew what the council’s decision would be when it came to agriculture.

“It’s sad, in this town, that you’re pushing so much of it out,” Brenda Frederick said.