Are Chickens Pets or Agriculture? PA Commonwealth Court Weighs In
On April 24, 2020, the Commonwealth Court issued an opinion in the case of Sabatini v. Zoning Hearing Board of Fayette County, 668 C.D. 2019. Sabatini owns a property containing approximately 1.85 acres that is zoned R-1 in Fayette County. Sabatini owns eighteen pet chickens including one rooster that have lived with his family on the property for four-and-a-half years. Sabatini does not advertise for sale chicken eggs, meat or feathers and he does not sell, butcher or eat any of the chickens. The chickens all have names, are kept in a coop but are allowed to roam on the property when they can be watched by the family.
The County Planning/Zoning Technician issued an enforcement notice for the keeping of agricultural animals on a property that is zoned residential. The Zoning Hearing Board denied Sabatini’s request to reverse the enforcement notice and the Court of Common Pleas upheld the Board’s decision.
The R1 Zoning District does not permit agriculture as a permitted use or by special exception. The Zoning Ordinance defines “Agriculture” as: “the commercial production and preparation for market of crops, livestock and livestock products, harvesting and preparation for market or use of agricultural, agronomic, horticultural, sivicultural, and aquacultural crops and commodities…”
The Commonwealth Court held that “[t]he phrase ‘the commercial production and preparation for market of’ modifies each of the succeeding nouns, ‘crops, livestock and livestock products,’ in the list equally.” In order for the chickens in question to meet the definition of “agriculture’, even assuming they are “livestock” they must be utilized “commercially and for market.”
The Ordinance does not define “commercial” so the Court looked to the definitions in Black’s Law Dictionary and Webster’s Dictionary. “These definitions are in line with the Ordinance’s requirement that the commercial activity be done with the goal of placing the product in the ‘market’.” The Ordinance also does not define “livestock” but the Court looked again at Black’s Law Dictionary and Webster’s Dictionary to determine that chickens are livestock.
The Court found that the facts of this case show that these chickens were not raised for commercial purposes. The record shows that Sabatini was not engaged in the buying or selling of chickens or chicken-related products and the chickens were not placed on the “market” to make a profit from them. The Court further held that it could not “ignore the plain language of the Ordinance that requires agriculture to be commercial in nature.”
The Board argued that because a Section of the Zoning Ordinance governing Agriculture contained requirements and limitations for poultry enclosures did not mean that Sabatini’s use met the definition of “Agriculture”. The Court concluded that Sabatini’s keeping of these chickens is not agriculture and therefore reversed the Trial Court’s decision.
This article is not legal advice and is provided for informational purposes only. Actual legal advice can only be provided after consultation by an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.