Chicken feathers not the only thing flying in Antrim Township

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
Arlene Schroedel, left, and Amanda Helt enjoy tending to various animals at their Sherwood Drive home. These turkeys will end up on the dinner table.

A backyard chicken pen has turned into anything but a pleasant country-living hobby. Allen Schildtknecht, Arlene Schroedel, and her daughter Amanda Helt, 27, raise chickens and turkeys in their rear yard at 14944 Sherwood Drive. They live in a medium residential (R-2) subdivision of streets lined with duplexes. Most of the residents rent their homes. Schildtknecht purchased his single family house seven years ago. The family also has rabbits and dogs in their menagerie, and until recently had ducks.

For over two years, the small chicken operation went smoothly. The couple had consulted Antrim Township, and were told they could have up to 100 chickens without a permit, and a coop under 400 square feet. The structure also had to be five feet from the property line. They also spoke to the neighbors about their plans.

Schroedel said they started small, planning to eat the eggs and chickens. Friends purchased excess eggs. In June, things went south.

After a heavy rain, Schroedel put hay on the ground to protect the fowl. She realized it was a mistake when the material began to stink. She then cleaned up the coop, and layered the ground with products and rocks designed to keep chickens dry and safe during wet conditions.

The odor had permeated to the neighbors. They came to realize that at the time, the yard contained close to 20 hens and roosters, four turkeys, several ducks, rabbits, and dogs when let out to play.

That explained to them the flies, mosquitoes from standing water in a kiddie pool, rat holes in their own yards, odors, tainted well water, and illnesses of people and pets living in the adjoining houses.

Barb and Floyd Gayman fronted Hykes Road, so they were not part of the development. A wooden fence blocked their view of the tiny farm. They and neighbors on Sherwood Drive repeatedly addressed their concerns about chickens in a housing development with Schildtknecht and Schroedel, and contacted Antrim, Franklin County Conservation District, DEP and the PA Board of Health. Every agency directed them back to the board of supervisors, the host municipality.

Wanting limits

The Gaymans and others spoke to supervisors John Alleman, Pat Heraty, James Byers, Rick Baer and Fred Young III on July 14 and 28.

Barb Gayman said that Schildtknecht was violating a deed restriction on owning livestock in Sherwood, but she had discovered that the only way to enforce it was for the residents to take him to Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. The tenants did not have the money to hire a lawyer though. She wanted Antrim to adopt an ordinance restricting the raising of poultry in dense residential subdivisions.

“It’s gotten so bad we can’t use our deck or hang clothes on the line,” she said.

As owners at that location for 40 years, Gayman said they were prisoners in their own home.

Antrim zoning officer Sylvia House told them, “The supervisors write ordinances for the majority of the residents. You are in the minority.”

Gaymans’ daughter Melissa Ball also commented on the failure to get straight answers from anyone. Jean Kauffman, who lives next door to the Gaymans and whose backyard butted the rear wire fence of Schildtknecht, said she and her husband would not have purchased their property two years ago if they had foreseen this problem.

Alleman responded, “Where do we draw the line?”

Heraty wanted to promote civil discourse among neighbors. Baer called the situation wrong but felt Antrim’s hands were tied. He worried that getting into the mix would lead to complaints on burning or tall grass. None of them wanted big government to be involved in everything.

Heraty stated, “We went through an exhaustive process to update the ordinance and maps. We cannot and will not make everyone happy. My responsibility is to make sure the loser is not the township and all its constituents.”

Ball also spoke to the Planning Commission on Aug. 3. She was critical of the supervisors’ reaction to the issue; that they were not taking it seriously.

“My parents have been met with a very dismissive response,” she said. “It is unreasonable to give the same ‘free for all’ liberties to a homeowner on a one-third acre lot in the middle of a housing development, as a farm in a rural setting.”

She continued that the Gaymans merely wanted restrictions and guidelines for residential developments; it was not just something that neighbors should work out.

“Good government, especially at the local level, should empower common sense and common courtesy,” she concluded.

Ball asked the advisory board to request the supervisors set some limits to protect both sides.

The disturbed parties cited Antrim’s ordinance defining the purpose of R-2 districts. Its language included “to allow for higher densities of residential uses and other supportive low impact commercial uses on smaller lot sizes that are supported by public utilities. Conservation practices shall be incorporated into all developments to preserve resources and the essential character of the area.”

Sherwood is on public sewer and private water.

Changes to the code could include setbacks, elevated housing for chickens, and a strict manure removal system, Ball suggested.

Friendship on the line

The Gaymans and Schroedel admitted they used to have a cordial relationship. It has deteriorated because of the opposing opinions on chickens in the backyard. They tend to yell at each other during encounters now.

The permeating effects of the flock still negatively impact the neighbors’ lifestyle, they claim.

Floyd Gayman credited the couple with taking care of the gagging smell in June. Jennifer Gsell, from across the street, was upset though, that at least five wells were contaminated. The area had a high water table and shallow wells. The cost to determine if the e-coli in the water was caused by chicken or human feces was prohibitive though. No one had tested their water before the conflict began. But they believed runoff in rainy weather carried bacteria from the poultry.

Schroedel liked having the animals for the food and enjoyment. She had gotten rid of some birds already because of “people harassing us”. Tending to the chores was a stress reliever after her night shift as a paramedic based out of Hagerstown, Md.

“I clean the yard. I’ll sit here and watch chicken butts run around,” she said. “Then I go to bed.” Schildtknecht worked days so Helt was in charge.

“I take care of the animals and mind my own business,” she said.

The family had intended to live in their home for another 10 years, but now are considering moving in three unless things calm down.

The way things could be made right, Helm said, was to just be left alone.

Barb Gayman said she wanted the number of chickens reduced, for the smell and flies to go away, and for the roosters to stop crowing at 4 a.m.

Gsell said, “We don’t care if they have pets. I just want to know the source of my water contamination.”

Antrim’s ordinance

House explained to the Echo Pilot that every zoning district in Antrim Township could have animals. The Ordinance Review Committee last year specifically looked at this very issue. The committee consisted of supervisors Heraty and Baer, Planning Commission members Larry Eberly and Joel Wenger, Franklin County Planning Department representative Sherri Clayton, engineer Mike Hicks, and Antrim zoning personnel House and Lynda Beckwith.

Since farms were present in every district, animals had a permitted use.

“We knew there would be an occasional person with too many animals,” House said. “We did not want to be big government. It is not a huge issue percentage-wise.”

Any farm animal would be permitted in each area, including a cow, pig or other livestock. If it was an exotic breed, the owner would have to follow state regulations, but the township would not enforce them. The ordinance addresses building size and setbacks only. Most subdivisions ban farm animals, House said, and homeowners associations, if active, had to enforce the clause. If the ban was on the deeds, the unhappy residents needed to take legal action to enforce it.

“Typically, subdivisions say you can’t have agricultural animals,” House said. “Everyone has to account for what they are doing with the manure. Most people don’t want that.”

Sherwood has no HOA (Homeowner Association).

Greencastle’s ordinance

The Borough of Greencastle does not have trouble with chickens because of its ordinance. It says that in the R-1 district no stable or storage of manure or other odor producing substance shall be located within 200 feet of any property line; no sale of products shall be permitted; and no keeping, breeding, and/or raising of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, fowl, or horses, including rental horses, shall be permitted on lots of less than 20 acres.