Downers Grove Council Shoots Down Proposed Chicken Coop Referendum
The council will move forward with a Jan. 22 standing committee meeting to discuss possible changes to the village's fowl ordinance.
The Downers Grove village council will move forward with a public meeting on fowl regulations after shooting down a commissioner's proposal for an April referendum.
As promised during the council's Dec. 18 meeting, Commissioner William Waldack presented two questions for the April 9 consolidated election ballot that could have given voters the opportunity to weigh in on the village's fowl ordinance, which regulates how many chickens, turkeys and other fowl Downers Grove residents may keep as pets.
"Shall the village of Downers Grove amend the ordinances allowing for the expansion of fowl, specifically chickens and/or backyard chicken-raising in Downers Grove?"
"Shall the village of Downers Grove amend the ordinances to reduce property line setbacks to allow for the expansion of chicken-raising in Downers Grove?"
Following a brief discussion, the possibility of a referendum was squashed by Waldack's fellow commissioners and Mayor Martin Tully, all of whom expressed their opposition to the measure. Commissioner Becky Rheintgen, who brought the chicken coop issue before the council last month, was absent Tuesday night.
"I'm generally not in favor of handling policy issues in this fashion," Tully said, reiterating his previous comments that decision-making is the responsibility of elected officials.
Tully thanked Waldack for bringing the questions before the board, but said the issue requires more research and discussion than a referendum would allow. He invited the public to participate instead during a standing committee meeting on the fowl ordinance, scheduled for Jan. 22.
"It's clear to me from the questions we've gotten from the public that we have to define the issue first before having a workshop discussion about it, much less have a referendum where we expect people to exercise the right to vote," Tully said. "We will have a standing committee of the council where we will focus on this issue and have the opportunity for public comment in an open environment where we can actually work through these issues. You can't do that in a referendum setting."
Other commissioners sided with Tully, saying they are committed to working through the issue and making an informed decision.
"I don't think governing by referendum is what we were asked to do by the people of Downers Grove," Geoff Neustadt said. "I'm not in favor of the proposed questions. I think the staff, council and residents of Downers Grove can have a healthy, intelligent and informed conversation on anything from chickens to fire engines to stop signs without going to referendum."
Waldack—who has publicly stated his opposition to changing current regulations—expressed his frustration with the council's decision. He argued that more residents would have taken the time to attend meetings or educate themselves if the issue had gone to referendum.
"Most of the public is unaware of what it is we are considering, and it actually has an impact on their health and safety, property values, predators and all the other problems we have," Waldack said.
The Downers Grove Council took up the issue of backyard chicken coops during its Dec. 4 meeting at the request of 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.
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 standing committee meeting on the fowl ordinance will be held at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 22, at Village Hall, 801 Burlington Ave.
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