Downers Grove Plans Standing Committee Meeting to Tackle Chicken Coop Regulations
Village Manager Dave Fieldman said fowl regulations will be discussed Jan. 21 during a standing committee of the village council.
Downers Grove village staff will wait until next year to present possible changes to the current ordinance on backyard chicken coops.
Village Manager Dave Fieldman announced during a council meeting Tuesday that the fowl ordinance will be discussed during a standing committee of the village council on Monday, Jan. 21, 2013.
Although staff has not a set a time for the meeting, Fieldman said it will likely be held in the early evening.
The Downers Grove Council took up the issue of backyard chicken coops durings 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."
Rheintgen said the lot size requirements prohibit most residents from maintaining backyard coops.
"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."
In an interview after the meeting, Rheintgen said her request was prompted both by her interest in sustainable living and recent complaints regarding the lot size of current chicken owners.
"This is an issue that I brought to the council last year when we were discussing goals and plans for 2012, but it never went anywhere," Rheintgen said. "With the recent complaints that were brought to our attention, I felt it was a good time to re-visit the issue to see where we stand and if there's any room for change."
Downers Grove has two active enforcement cases against chicken owners, both of whom were present and addressed the council Dec. 4.
Dawn Konters, of the 5700 block of Hillcrest Road, started raising chickens five years ago as a learning tool for her children. According to village documents, a complaint was filed against her last month due to the placement of her coop—allegedly less than 50 feet away from the property lines.
She asked commissioners to consider amending the village's requirements for coop placement.
"I feel confident that chickens should be allowed in Downers Grove, and I think they could work for most residents and be an asset for the community as well," Konters said.
LeAnn Lolli, of the 4100 block of Highland Avenue, also started raising chickens as an experiment with her children. According to the village code inspector, her property is not large enough to accommodate the current guidelines for housing fowl.
"You don't think of chickens as pets, but it's an experience I've grown to love," Lolli said. "The whole family has enjoyed it, and we've learned a lot ... It's surprising how much like pets these birds really are. It's not much different from having a dog or a cat."
Rheintgen said she was not acquainted with either woman before Tuesday. Because both cases are still pending, the village declined to provide any further comment.
Mayor Martin Tully asked each of the commissioners not about their position on changing the ordinance, but whether they would support a future discussion. Although Rheintgen, Tully, and Commissioners Bob Barnett and Geoff Neustadt were in favor of placing the item on a future agenda, Commissioners William Waldack, Sean Patrick Durkin and Marilyn Schnell expressed reservations about using the village's limited resources to research the issue.
"What has really changed since 1987? Nothing—the only thing that has changed is popularity," Waldack said. He also questioned the staff's priorities and whether researching the fowl ordinance would be the best use of their time.
Schnell, also expressing concern about the staff's workload, asked what items would be placed on the backburner should the council move forward with discussing the ordinance. She said the council should be aware of the "huge implications" the issue has on the community, especially if any decisions are made without careful consideration and public input.
"I have serious reservations about this," Schnell said. "What is one man's pleasure and opportunity is another man's nightmare. Whatever we do needs to be balanced so all people are considered and respected."
Neustadt, Tully and Barnett each said the council should at least entertain a more formal discussion before shutting down Rheintgen's request altogether.
"From my perspective, at least talking about it in two weeks doesn't seem to be unreasonable because there's no obligation to decide anything during a workshop," Tully said.
With the majority of commissioners in favor of moving forward, Village Manager David Fieldman said he would begin working with Rheintgen and village staff to examine the request.
Downers Grove is one of several Chicago suburbs that allow residents to keep chickens, roosters and other fowl in their backyards. Other communities that permit residential coops include Naperville, Plainfield, Brookfield, Westchester, Batavia, Evanston, Schaumburg and Western Springs.
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