The Birds and the Bees: New Proposal Reduces Obstacles to Pittsburgh's Urban Agriculture

May 1, 2015

Proposed amendments to Pittsburgh regulations would make it easier for residents to raise bees, chickens, ducks and goats.
Credit Flickr User Jordan Schwartz

Urban farmers rejoice — it might soon become easier to raise farm animals in Pittsburgh, and to raise them legally.

Proposed amendments to 2011 city regulations on urban agriculture would make it easier for Pittsburgh residents to apply for and receive permits to raise chickens, ducks, and goats on their property. The changes would also eliminate obstacles to allow more non-residential properties to become fully functional commercial farms.

City Councilwoman Deb Gross said the changes follow a public input meeting from several months ago, which more than 100 people attended to support revising the current regulations.

“There are a lot of eager growers and tenders of animals out there, um, and I can’t name names but I know that from hearsay in the room, many of these people are already keeping animals and are actually eager to do it legally,” Gross said.

In fact, illegally raising chickens, ducks and bees is fairly common in Pittsburgh. Shelly Danko-Day is an Open Space Specialist for the Department of City Planning, the organization that drafted the amendments. According to Danko-Day, a chicken coop supply store informed her that Pittsburgh residents are major buyers of chicken raising products. However, only 13 people have filed for chicken or beekeeping permits in Pittsburgh since the original regulations were adopted in 2011, which leaves the majority of urban agriculturalists on the wrong side of the current law.

“When we asked why people weren’t complying with the law, it was because the cost was outrageous and because the process was a big public process,” Dank-Day said. Under current regulations, a chicken, duck or beekeeping permit can take 10 weeks to obtain and costs $340. The proposed amendments would reduce the cost to $70 and no longer require applicants to undergo a public hearing to receive their permits.

The changes will also address goat-raising for the first time. If the amendments are adopted, Pittsburghers will be able to raise up to two miniature goats on property that is at least 2,000 square feet. Properties in excess of 10,000 square feet will be able to keep two full-sized goats.

Danko-Day said that in the past Pittsburgh has been “a little behind” in urban agriculture support and promotion, but “this will bring us on par with Baltimore and Cleveland.”

The Pittsburgh City Council will consider the amendments Wednesday.