To bee or not to bee—that is the question Forest Hills Council is exploring after some interest from residents about those "urban farming" possibilities.
While the bee idea has some support, the notion of chickens is ruffling some feathers—at least among neighbors in the Edgewood Acres area, who contacted council with their concerns after finding out about the discussion. Council isn't expected to take final action on approving such a measure for at least a few months, according to council President Steve Karas.
The idea of permitting residents to have chickens has come to council a few times over the past few years.
Forest Hills resident Elizabeth Donohoe is leading the latest effort. She held an indoor winter farmer's market last month at Juniper Village featuring local foods and sees an interest in the urban farming movement in Forest Hills.
"With the huge interest in local foods—and the move toward sustainable solutions generally—it's no surprise that a growing number of people want a more direct relationship with the food they eat," Donohoe said. "I look around and see the gardens people are putting in, how people are composting, that they're learning how to freeze and can foods for winter use, and so on. I think this is an exciting green initiative for Forest Hills to get behind, and a great way to join other communities who are on the leading edge of the healthy local foods movement."
Karas pointed to the City of Pittsburgh, which has an ordinance, as well as places like State College. He said many other municipalities choose not to regulate it at all.
"People are interested in having chickens," Karas said. "They see it as a way to sustainably raise their own food and teach their children about the importance of local food. We looked at several ordinances and adopted best practices from government and agricultural agencies and sought to craft an ordinance that would work for Forest Hills."
The ordinance was discussed at several public meetings and in two different committees and was reviewed by the borough solicitor. Karas said council noted comments from residents—both pro and con—and addressed concerns.
"Some of the residents that were against it cited a situation several years ago," he said. "Others had limited knowledge of how to raise chickens and voiced understandable concerns over things like noise and smell. I learned that chickens produce very little waste and its the roosters that make noise."
Karas said his sister-in-law, who lives in Brooklyn, has about 40 chickens in a very small space. She owns a house in Forest Hills and was shocked to learn that the borough did not allow chickens, he said.
"It is very popular in New York City," Karas said.
He said council would limit the number to four or five. In a letter sent to residents, Donohoe said no roosters would be permitted.
Karas said very few residents have voiced opposition to bees.
"As many people know there is an issue with less bees available for pollination," the council president said. "As it stands now in Forest Hills, Tree City USA, with two park/arboretums, wild bees have been spotted. That is a sign of a healthy ecosystem. We think small beekeeping for pollination and honey can be done very safely."
Council's proposed ordinance would require both bees and chickens to be maintained. The owner would need a certificate of education on best practices, a permit, agree to spot inspections and a set back that will provide reassurance to neighbors.
"Ours is actually more restrictive than Pittsburgh or New York City's," Karas said. "Urban farming is popular among younger people and families. We want people who do this responsibly to take a look at all of the parks, green space, recreational opportunities, our pool, and our outstanding police and borough services. We think that if they do, more people will chose to live in Forest Hills."
Karas said the proposed ordinance would be discussed in public meetings and reviewed by council for several months. Council would then hear any concerns, address them and then allow for public comment prior to a vote.
"We have had huge support to pass this and some concern over how we would do it and some residents opposed," Karas said. "We will listen to everyone before we decide."