In defense of individual liberty: Luzerne County councilman weighs in on county chicken ordinance matter

by Luzerne County Councilman Stephen J. Urban

[Editor: The following address was delivered publicly by Councilman Stephen J. Urban during a November meeting of the Luzerne County Council.]

Let me preface by stating Article I, Section 1, of the Pennsylvania Constitution (Inherent Rights of Mankind) states:

“All men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent and indefeasible rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of acquiring, possessing and protecting property and reputation, and of pursuing their own happiness.”

In the case of backyard chickens, we can use arguments against chickens such as:

(L to R): Manager Bob Lawton, Councilman Stephen A. Urban, Councilman Stephen J. Urban, and Councilwoman Eileen M. Sorokas

(L to R): Manager Bob Lawton, Councilman Stephen A. Urban, Councilman Stephen J. Urban, and Councilwoman Eileen M. Sorokas

Chickens do not belong in the city, as they are farm animals. Typically hens are quiet, small, and need little space. All the municipal bodies comprising Luzerne County do not exactly fit the description of a “concrete city in America.” We live in an area where many wild animals roam free. My question is, how are a few domesticated birds owned by responsible families with adults going to negatively impact an area where we already drive into unmanaged deer, turkeys, squirrels, skunks, opossums, rabbits, and even a few stray neighborhood cats and dogs? Chickens smell. People smell, too, and so does every animal if confined or placed in crowded conditions with no access to free air and sunlight and no ability to clean themselves or itself. Five hens generate less manure than one medium-sized dog. Unlike dog manure, chicken manure can be used for compost or fuel. If we want to over-regulate and restrict individuals, maybe we should pass a ordinance to require DNA testing of every pile of dog feces in a neighborhood and fine every dog owner for not cleaning up their piles. Surely there are more anonymous wretched mounds of dog excrement lying around than chicken manure.

Hens are quiet. This is simply a fact.

Chickens attract predators. The same predators that go after chickens attack squirrels, rabbits, other birds, mice, rats, etc. We don’t regulate people from having rabbits in cages, guinea pigs, rats, hamsters, ferrets (in my opinion, ferrets smell worse than chickens), skunks, big noisy birds such as parrots and cockatiels. Other pets such as snakes and spiders are allowed.

Not allowing backyard chickens (a bird that provides an organic food source to people, namely, our health-conscious neighbors) is in my opinion a violation of the PA Constitution, Article I, Section 1 . . .

As an elected official sworn to uphold the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I believe it would be a constitutional violation to infringe on a person’s inherent and indefeasible rights to not allow someone to acquire property, e.g., chickens, to pursue one’s own happiness. Who am I to tell our responsible neighbors and constituents what they can or can’t have on their lands, especially when it is not harming anyone else in their community? It reeks of our county becoming a “nanny state” and takes away their freedoms as taxpaying citizens of our county, Commonwealth and freedoms of living in the United States of America. By doing so we limit individuals’ happiness to love a pet or pets and/or limit their ability to pursue healthier and organic sources of food for their family.

If we intend on asking for another 4% increase in real estate taxation, this also makes us very unattractive as a county, by taking away one’s personal freedoms through financial constraints.

Surely, we spent many hours on an issue that seems insane, namely, for a single residence to keep and maintain chickens because our zoning board did not grant a variance that could have resolved this issue long ago. Together, we, as a county council should make the right decision and grant our taxpayers who fall under our zoning ordinance the ability to choose whether or not they want to engage in sensible and reasonably regulated ownership of backyard chickens.

By not passing a reasonably sensible and sound chicken ordinance, I do not believe this issue will go away, as the next step in the process could be a lawsuit defending the very essence of this county council’s decision to infringe on someone’s rights of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property and reputation . . . and pursuing their own happiness. I do not believe we need to waste any more time or money on this issue, and I believe our job as county council members is to lift outdated and antiquated restrictions on backyard chickens and the many other issues that plague and constrain us as being attractive to live in peace and harmony in our own homes within Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.

We want to welcome people here, not take away from the quality of life that people could enjoy elsewhere. Simply telling someone to move is not the answer to solving this issue. I ask and urge my fellow council members to support a reasonable ordinance to backyard chickens, as this is not an issue that requires a complete “no ownership” restriction that fines and financially hurts people over a species of bird they wish to keep and maintain for whatever reasons they see fit.

This issue may be laughable to many, however, it brings to question our sense of legislative judgment and whether or not we as council members can truly find compromise among each other and the people we were elected to represent.

If we intend on asking for another 4% increase in real estate taxation, this also makes us very unattractive as a county, by taking away one’s personal freedoms through financial constraints. I ask what personal freedoms are we as council members truly giving back to the people who elected us when we financially constrain them by disallowing them to simply have pet chickens that I believe have very little monetary value when it comes to county finances.

In conclusion, I ask my fellow council members to think about this wisely: the county is asking to take another 4% of financial freedom from our taxpayers; what is this council willing to give back in personal freedoms for that 4%?

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