Downers Grove Commissioner Wants Voters to Weigh in on Chicken Regulations
Commissioner William Waldack told the village council Dec. 18 that he plans to suggest a referendum for the April 2013 consolidated election ballot.
A Downers Grove commissioner hopes to give voters the chance to decide whether the village should allow more homes to have chicken coops.
Commissioner William Waldack told the village council Dec. 18 that he plans to suggest a referendum question next month about possible changes to the village's fowl ordinance, which regulates how many chickens Downers Grove residents may keep as pets.
"I do plan on making some suggestions about putting this out to referendum at our next meeting," Waldack said. "I would just ask my fellow council members to think about it over the holidays ... and keep an open mind."
The Downers Grove Council took up the issue of backyard chicken coop during its Dec. 4 meeting at the request of Commissioner Becky Rheintgen, who asked that village staff look into the possibility of increasing the number of chickens permitted, decreasing setback requirements, banning roosters and requiring a license or permit for keeping chickens.
Currently, the village defines fowl as "any domesticated bird, poultry or water fowl, except for homing pigeons and caged birds kept as house pets." A maximum of four fowl aged 18 weeks or older and four fowl younger than 18 weeks are permitted on residential properties.
Per village code, all fowl must be 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."
Because of the space requirements, fewer than 20 percent of Downers Grove residents are permitted to keep chickens, Rheintgen said.
"Since the ordinance was created in 1987, there's been a movement toward sustainability, growing your own food and controlling your own food source, and the trend continues to grow and become more popular," Rheintgen said. "The ordinance as it's written excludes a great deal of our residents due to their lot size, and I think there may be a way to modify the ordinance to be more inclusive to residents while still being considerate and respectful of their neighbors."
Downers Grove currently has two active enforcement cases against chicken owners who do not meet the space requirements. Rheintgen brought the issue to the council after receiving emails from the residents.
The village council will discuss the current fowl ordinance during a standing committee meeting on Jan. 21. The deadline for adding a referendum to the April 2013 consolidated election ballot is Jan. 22.
Downers Grove Mayor Martin Tully said he is unsure whether it would be appropriate to go to referendum about the fowl ordinance, since the village is discussing possible changes rather than creating a new policy.
"What we're potentially talking about is an adjustment (to the current ordinance), and I can't think of any adjustment of that nature that has gone to referendum," Tully said. "I understand we'll be talking on Jan. 21 about what it is that we might propose as a modification to the ordinance, but I don't even know if we could articulate that on a referendum. Right now, I'm not even sure we'd be able to do that by the 21st."
Tully also said he believes it's the council's job to make decisions about certain issues, rather than rely on popular vote.
"Generally speaking, I'm not a fan of referendums because I think that governing by referendum is an abdication of responsibilities of elected officials," Tully said. "It's part of our job to do our homework and make decisions."
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