'Happy ending for everyone': Unity family to move flock to end chicken fight with township

·3 min read

Jun. 11—A Unity couple is taking steps to move a flock of 20 hens and roosters from their home along Range Street, which would end a zoning chicken fight with township officials.

Jeff Kuhns on May 26 filed a land-use appeal in Westmoreland County Court, seeking to reverse a decision by the township zoning hearing board. The board in April denied Kuhns' request for a variance and upheld the position of township officials that he and his wife, Kristin, can't have backyard chickens because their property is smaller than 2 acres, the minimum required for keeping fowl under Unity's zoning ordinance.

Kuhns has argued that the restriction should apply only to chickens raised as livestock, not to the flock his family raises as a hobby and treats as pets. The couple also presented evidence indicating that the chickens provide emotional support for Kristin.

The township planning commission recommended against proposed changes to the zoning ordinance that would ease restrictions on raising backyard chickens.

Kristin Kuhns on Thursday told the Tribune-Review that her family, while intending to maintain their residence on Range Street, is buying property in a different municipality, where they will move the chickens and their coops.

She declined to say where.

The new location, she said, is in a more rural, wooded setting and covers more than 3 acres. She said a check with local officials reassured the couple that they can keep their chickens at the new property "free and clear" from any restrictions other than those pertaining to the site's inclusion in a flood zone.

She said moving the chickens was a better option for her family than the prospect of a potentially lengthy, costly and taxing court battle.

"This has been very stressful," she said, adding that she and her husband are excited about finding the new home for their flock. "I think it's going to be better for them. They'll have more room.

"It's going to be a happy ending for everyone."

The move won't happen until they have completed security measures at the property, including installation of surveillance cameras and electric fencing to protect the flock from predators.

She said the couple will continue the court appeal until the chickens are moved. She noted they have been keeping their roosters inside to minimize any disturbance to neighbors.

Several neighbors complained about noise from the chickens during a multi-part hearing before the zoning panel.

One neighbor appeared at Thursday's supervisors meeting, asking why Unity officials couldn't enforce removal of the chickens. Solicitor Gary Falatovich explained that the township can't compel the family to remove the chickens while the case remains under appeal.

Noting that it might take a year for the appeal to proceed through the court system, Falatovich said the township is "happy that the Kuhnses voluntarily agreed to move their chickens. As soon as that's accomplished, the appeals will be withdrawn and that matter will go away. That's the absolute best result we could have."

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, jhimler@triblive.com or via Twitter .