A Luzerne County Council majority voted Tuesday to advance a proposed zoning amendment allowing residential property owners to keep up to four backyard chickens.
Council must obtain feedback from the county Planning Commission but is free to accept or reject the commission’s recommendation.
Five council members did not support proceeding: Edward Brominski, Kathy Dobash, Linda McClosky Houck, Eileen Sorokas and Rick Morelli.
Brominski said he has no problem with chickens but is concerned the change will prompt other citizens in the 23 municipalities covered by county zoning to start requesting alterations based on individual circumstances. He disagrees with council’s involvement, saying the county planning/zoning office should have handled the matter.
Sorokas said she has chickens on her rural farm and believes “that’s where they belong.” Municipal leaders in 12 municipalities previously indicated they were against allowing chickens, she said, predicting citizens will next ask to keep pigs, goats, turkeys and other farm animals in residential areas.
“All we’re doing is prolonging this,” Sorokas said. “If we can’t make a decision, I think there’s something wrong with us.”
Council members who agreed to advance the proposal said they support the change or see no harm in obtaining an expert opinion from the planning commission.
Councilman Stephen A. Urban said property owners should have the right to have chickens.
“How much freedom are we going to take away from the people?” he asked.
Council also adopted a capital plan for the county’s remaining $16 million in past-borrowed funding.
Although council members disagreed on some specifics, they unanimously accepted Councilman Tim McGinley’s proposal to remove millions of dollars in projects so $4.5 million of the funding would be kept in a reserve. The administration must seek council approval to tap the reserve for projects that are not on the list.
For example, the allocation to redo the rear courthouse parking lot was reduced from $900,000 to $500,000 and a $1 million earmark to replace the recently demolished Division Street Bridge over Solomon Creek was entirely removed.
The remaining $10.5 million in capital spending will include $1 million for county-owned Moon Lake Park in Plymouth Township instead of $3 million. County Manager Robert Lawton said he won’t spend the money before determining if the state is interested in taking over the recreational facility.
A $50,000 allocation to add an automated ticketing system at the Water Street parkade was scrapped because council members determined the potential revenue wasn’t high enough to warrant the expense.
Council also lowered the budget to redo the south courthouse entrance to $200,000, eliminating an additional $345,000 to make the entrance accessible to the disabled. The $200,000 will repair deteriorating sidewalks.
Councilman Jim Bobeck said some worthwhile projects must be scaled back because “this is the end” of the county’s capital funding for many years due to the county’s more than $400 million in outstanding debt.