Report on Backyard Chickens Sets Stage for Downers Grove Council Discussion
Proposed changes would increase the number of eligible lots from 509 to 13,883, according to a report published Thursday by the village of Downers Grove.
Proposed changes to fowl regulations in Downers Grove would allow all but a handful of single-family residential properties to house backyard chicken coops, according to village staff.
In a report published Thursday on the village's website, Village Manager Dave Fieldman details more than a month of research on the current fowl ordinance and proposed changes. The document also includes a survey of surrounding municipalities and more than a dozen responses to questions posed by the council and Downers Grove residents.
Village staff began researching the ordinance after the council's Dec. 4 meeting, during which Commissioner Becky Rheintgen asked that they 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 current ordinance—adopted in 1987—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."
According to the report, village staff used council recommendations to put together alternative regulations, which would prohibit roosters and guinea fowl to minimize noise, and ban slaughtering. The regulations are for council consideration, and are not technically staff recommendations, according to village officials.
The alternative regulations would change the 50-foot setback rule to just 20 feet, while implementing new rules for maximum coop size. Under the proposed changes, nearly all residential properties would be permitted to house backyard chickens, according to the report.
"The proposal would result in an increase in the number of lots eligible to keep backyard chickens from 509 to 13,883, which includes all but a handful of single-family residential properties," the report states. "Based on other communities that allow chickens, the number of permits sought is unlikely to add significantly to the workloads of existing Community Development Department staff, reviewers, inspectors and code enforcement officers."
The staff proposal would also implement a more formal process for keeping chickens, requiring a permits for coop construction and any electrical elements.
The Downers Grove council is scheduled to discuss the fowl ordinance during a standing committee meeting at 6 p.m. Jan. 22.
On Tuesday, the council shot down a proposal by Commissioner William Waldack to let voters weigh in on the ordinance by placing a referendum on the April 9 consolidated election ballot.
Mayor Martin Tully, along with Commissioners Geoff Neustadt and Marilyn Schnell, said the issue should be decided by the council after sufficient research and debate.
"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," Tully said. "You can't do that in a referendum setting."
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.
Rheintgen, who was absent Tuesday, said 25-year-old fowl ordinance deserves the council's attention, especially in light of the recent movement toward sustainability and locally-grown food.
"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," Rheintgen said last month.
Rheintgen's proposal was prompted by two recent code enforcement cases, both of which involve lots that are too small to house chicken coops under current regulations. Rheintgen said she was not acquainted with either woman before the meeting. Because both cases are still pending, the village declined to provide any further comment.
Four other complaints have been received by the village since 2007, all of which resulted in the removal of chickens.
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.
Of the nine townships surveyed by Downers Grove staff, all nine defer to DuPage County rules, which allow chickens only on properties five acres or larger, or on properties of 40,000 square feet or larger with approved 4H-related projects.
Despite the proposal put forth in the report, the staff acknowledges the keeping chickens on single-family residential properties may have negative impacts on surrounding properties. The report includes answers to more than a dozen community questions related to noise, disease, odors, predators and proper care. (The complete report can be viewed to the top right of this article.)
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