Hanover residents cry foul over chicken regulation

Jana Benscoter
York Dispatch

Ashlee Vandewater said she wants her son to grow up knowing that even though her family doesn’t live on a farm, they can still provide for themselves.

Ashlee Vandewater is asking Hanover to reconsider its newly approved chicken ordinance. (Jana Benscoter/photo)

The Hanover resident and her husband, Matt, are challenging council members to amend an ordinance that regulates them to owning four chickens at any given time. 

“If there’s merit to her argument that you can raise more than four chickens in a manner that doesn’t create issues for your neighbors, I’ll take it back to the council,” said borough manager Michael Bowersox, who will be visiting the 24-year-old's home in May.

Bowersox explained the legal standard for any animal complaint is “whether or not they are a nuisance.” He said residents with chickens should be held to the same standard as dog owners.

For example, he said, a resident can own one dog that is a nuisance or own five dogs that are not a nuisance.

“We are in a position where there were people who were creating conditions that made it difficult for their neighbors to live in,” he said.

Council members had lengthy conversations and held a public hearing, which wasn't highly attended, to draft a fair animal ordinance, Bowersox continued. Instead of banning chickens, the general consensus was to limit owners to four, he said. 

Council members unanimously approved the ordinance Dec. 27, 2017. 

The Vandewaters have 18 chickens in their backyard; however, Hanover Borough Council members recently approved an ordinance that restricts residents to having four. (Jana Benscoter/photo)

According to the ordinance, residents need a chicken permit. Four chickens are allowed per lot, regardless of lot size; no fowl or poultry other than chickens may be kept, harbored or permitted to reside on a property; no roosters are permitted, and only hens are allowed, the permit reports. 

Residents can keep the chickens they currently have, but they will only be permitted to keep them “as long as complaints are not received." Once any current chickens are removed, the owners will not be "permitted to replace them above the limit of four,” the permit explains. 

Vandewater penned a letter to the borough when she filed her $25 permit application fee.

"I understand I will now be ‘grandfathered’ into this new regulation, and I will be allowed to keep my current flock of 18 chickens, but must allow the flock to reduce to 4," she wrote. "I also must pay a permit application and subject my property to ‘inspections’ to make sure I am taking care of my animals.”

Chickens are inexpensive to purchase, but the maintenance of them is costly, she explained.

“I am not sure if council members are aware, but the main sellers of chicks in the Hanover area will only allow customers to purchase a minimum of 6 chicks, making it very hard, if not impossible to comply with the 4 maximum regulation,” she wrote. “Chickens are also social creatures and live in flocks, of which 4 is a very low number.”

A violation, issued by the magistrate’s office, begins at $100 and can go up to $1,000 for repeat offenders, Bowersox said.

Vandewater said she did “quite a bit of research” about chickens.

“What is upsetting is being restricted to certain regulations rather than allowing residents to be granted a permit on a case by case basis, after proving their ability to properly keep and house such animals,” she wrote. “Not every backyard is the same, and not every property is, or is not, suited for chickens.”

The “genesis” of the chicken regulation was based on a feral cat conversation, Bowersox said. Dogs, cats and chickens have been part of the borough for decades, he said, but there aren't many ordinances on the books about them.    

Hanover resident Matt Vandewater removes eggs from his backyard chicken coop. (Jana Benscoter/photo)

Bowersox said organic eggs are trendy locally, but the only other municipality where he could find an ordinance for comparison was Jacobus. 

Matt Vandewater said he'd like to see Hanover approach chickens the same way they do pet dogs. The Vandewaters' backyard, he added, is not a commercial operation. The money they get for selling a dozen eggs to friends and family goes into paying for chicken maintenance, he said. 

"It's a lifestyle that we've adopted, and it is in danger of changing dramatically," Ashlee Vandewater said. "They provide for family and immediate family and my co-workers. We don't make millions from them."