Backyard Chickens: Downers Grove Council Shoots Down Proposal to Expand Ordinance
New regulations that would have increased the number of eligible lots from 509 to 13,883 were called "too much, too soon" during the nearly four-hour standing committee meeting.
Downers Grove's 26-year-old ordinance on backyard chickens will remain unchanged—at least for the time being.
After more than three hours of public comment and debate among commissioners Tuesday night, the Downers Grove Council nixed a proposal that would have amended the village's fowl ordinance and allowed all but a handful of single-family residential properties to house backyard chicken coops.
The majority of the council called the changes "too much, too soon," but said they will maintain an open dialogue with residents as they explore other options.
Tuesday's standing committee meeting came nearly two months after Commissioner Becky Rheintgen asked the council to explore the possibility of increasing the number of chickens permitted, decreasing setback requirements, banning roosters, and requiring a license or permit for keeping chickens.
The current ordinance—adopted in 1987—allows a maximum of four fowl aged 18 weeks or older and four fowl younger than 18 weeks on residential properties, so long as they are entirely confined in a pen, coop, building or other enclosure at all times. Enclosures must be set back at least 50 feet from any property line and shall be kept "clean, sanitary and free from all refuse."
At the council's request, village staff spent a month researching the current ordinance and laws in other communities before offering a set of alternative regulations that would have implemented a permit process and banned roosters and slaughtering. The plan would have also changed the setback requirements from 50 feet to 20 feet—increasing the number of eligible lots from 509 to 13,883.
The dramatic increase was met with hesitation by Mayor Martin Tully and Commissioners Bob Barnett and Sean Patrick Durkin, who were unwilling to pursue such a broad solution to a problem that might only affect a handful of residents.
"This kind of change seems to be way too much an affects way too many people as a potential resolution to this question in front of us," Barnett said. "If we change anything, we have to figure out how to bring the community along."
Durkin agreed that the plan before the council was "way too much."
"At the end of the day, with what we have before us, I don't think it's the right solution," Durkin said. "I'm not shutting the door saying we can't have something else."
The chicken debate was prompted in large part by petitions from two residents whose families were raising chickens in violation of village code. Complaints were lodged against both families in the fall, forcing them to give up their coops within the past month.
Despite passionate pleas from both families and their neighbors Tuesday night, Tully remained wary of reducing the setback requirement and impacting the entire community—instead suggesting that the village look at ways to manage the issue at the neighborhood level.
"What has been identified is a numerically small problem, and a solution that is enormous," Tully said.
Commissioner Geoff Neustadt and Rheintgen were both in favor of changing the ordinance, even if it takes more meetings and research.
"I really think there are ways to find some middle ground, and to find some revisions that would allow more people to raise conditions," Rheintgen said. "While I do understand the concerns over the 500 to 13,000 increase—that's a big jump—there could be ways to do it there are respectful."
Commissioners William Waldack and Marilyn Schnell were both opposed to making any changes to the current ordinance. Schnell, said the proposal was "too much, too soon, too quickly."
"The bottom line is it's an issue about what our community should embrace," Schnell said. "Is this really something all the residents of Downers Grove want to embrace? I get the sense that as a community, we're not there yet."
More than two dozen residents spoke at the meeting Tuesday night, most of them in support of broader regulations. Some residents posed specific questions regarding health risks and waste removal, and others raised concerns about the impact on property values.
Village Manager Dave Fieldman said staff would maintain an open dialouge with residents, and could revisit the issue later this year, possibly over the summer.
There are currently 14 municipalities with property in DuPage County that allow backyard chickens: Bartlett, Batavia, Burr Ridge, Darien, Downers Grove, Itasca, Lemont, Naperville, Oak Brook, Schaumburg, St. Charles, Warrenville, Wayne and Woodale.
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