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Two Dozen Downers Grove Residents Debate Backyard Chickens at Village Meeting

Residents spoke before the council for more than two hours Tuesday night—some advocating for broader regulations, and others airing concerns about property values and quality of life.

On Tuesday night, more than 20 residents went before the Downers Grove Village Council to address the much-debated issue of backyard chicken coops—many asking for changes to the current regulations, and a few stating their firm opposition.

The council heard public comment for about two and a half hours during the standing committee meeting, an informal forum held to discuss 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.

Although the council ultimately decided against any immediate changes, Mayor Martin Tully and several of the commissioners were struck by the level of participation.

"We have received more comments on this topic than any one we've discussed in these chambers over the entirety of 2012," Tully said. "The one thing that surprised me is the unexpected level of passionate interest in this subject from a variety of different perspectives."

For the full story from Tuesday's meeting, read "Backyard Chickens: Downers Grove Council Shoots Down Proposal to Expand Ordinance."

The meeting began with a short presentation from resident Steve Konters, who began raising chickens five years ago with his wife, Dawn, as a learning tool for their children. A complaint was filed against the couple in November due to the placement of their coop, which was not in line with the village's 50-foot setback requirements.

Although the Konters were forced to give up their chickens, both Steve and Dawn appeared Tuesday to offer more information about backyard coops and again ask council to consider amending the 26-year-old ordinance. 

In his presentation, Steve Konters outlined the education and health benefits of raising your own chickens, and attempted to quash concerns about noise, odor and waste. He also discussed sustainable living and the importance of growing your own food.

"This fits into our community values. We see Downers Grove as a progressive community, and would argue that this falls within the village's strategic goals of improving environmental sustainability," he said.

Dawn Konters said chickens are no different than dogs in terms of waste and noise, and thus deserve an ordinance that is more equitable to residents.

"(Chickens) are quiet, docile, small animals, and pose no greater health risk than other animals," she said. "I see no reason why neighbors should be able to tell me what I get to do on my property when I'm trying to do something the proper way and everything we do has a low impact."

The Konters presented a petition to the council that had more than 250 signatures.

"The response was about 70 percent positive," Dawn Konters said. "I think more people do want this, or at least want the option."

Like the Konters, LeAnn Lolli was also forced to give up her chickens after a complaint was filed over lot size. Lolli said the village's lack of complaints—despite chickens being raised in violation of the ordinance—demonstrates that the community is open to the idea of backyard coops.

"In the last five years, we've averaged one complaint a year which makes this a success story in the experiment of chicken ownership," Lolli said.

The following is a sample of comments from Tuesday's meeting:

Ron Waechtler: Opposed to changing current ordinance. Said enforcement would be the biggest issue, since village is stretched "pretty thin. "Also raised concerns about chickens attracting other animals (coyotes, raccoons and skunks).

John Phillips (neighbor of Steve and Dawn Konters): "We live in an ever increasing technological age, and my grandchildren are losing more and more chances to learn directly from living organisms. Somehow the ability to interact with a live animal in its own environment does make a difference in terms of their learning. I think it's important for their growth as humans to have a chance to observe the outside world."

Genene Murphy: Has lived next to chickens for six years, but didn't know it until recently. Described the chickens as "beautiful, clean and well cared for." Said her kids enjoyed the experience of interacting with the chickens, and that the egg she took home was the best she ever had. Stated she was in favor of making changes to the ordinance.

Elena Falco (real estate agent): Has lived in Downers Grove for 40 years, and has sold residential real estate in the community for 13 years. Said she has never shown a property with a chicken coop. Said she has a friend that owns coops and takes very good care of the chickens. "If it's done correctly, a coop in someone's backyard could actually be a selling point for a house. I don't think this is going to put us into a rural livestock situation at all. I think if it's done right, the entire community could benefit."

Krista Calvino: Said she has seen many backyard chicken coops in Oak Park and Chicago, and none of them were run down or dirty. "That's their home too, they want it to look nice," she said, referring to chicken owners.

Patricia Turner: Opposed to changing the ordinance due to sanitation and enforcement issues. "I have lived in Downers Grove for 39 years. I didn't take this whole thing seriously at first, because I thought it was a joke. We do not live in a rural area. I knew that 39 years ago when I moved here. Had I wanted to live in a rural area, I would have moved farther down I-55."

Greg Reiser: Opposed to changing ordinance. Cited concerns about noise, filth and potential vermin, all of which could affect property values.

John M.: Moved to Downers Grove just four days prior to the meeting. Raised chickens in Atlanta. Said the suggested setback was a bit much and that permits seem unnecessary. Said he's from La Grange Park and wanted to move back there, but the town is no where near allowing chickens. Downers Grove's chicken ordinance was part of the reason he decided to move there, he said.

Related stories:

  • Report on Backyard Chickens Sets Stage for Downers Grove Council Discussion
  • Downers Grove Council Shoots Down Proposed Chicken Coop Referendum
  • Downers Grove Commissioner Wants Voters to Weigh in on Chicken Regulations
  • Downers Grove Plans Standing Committee Meeting to Tackle Chicken Coop Regulations
  • Downers Grove Staff to Review Chicken Coop Regulations Despite Split Council
  • Downers Grove Council to Discuss Regulations on Backyard Chicken Coops

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David Grondy January 24, 2013 at 02:51 PM
I didn't make the council meeting due to a conflict but will the chickens require licenses around their lil necks? I guess they would if they're considered pets? Regardless, I have some great chicken salad recipes I can share because that's what the neighbors of chicken owners will be thinking about once they experience being awakened in the morning hearing the cock-a-doodle-doo.
MC January 24, 2013 at 03:53 PM
1. no one is proposing they be considered "pets" - in the legal sense. 2. a ban on slaughtering IS proposed (ie, no chicken salad for you). 3. roosters are, and will continue to be, prohibited. hens don't cock-a-doodle-doo. 4. your stand up routine needs work. don't quit your day job.
wayne enerson January 24, 2013 at 04:02 PM
Just think of all the homes for sale in D.G. this summer when the chicken coop people move to Evanston or Chicago so they can have chickens in small yards. Those homes won't sell because no one wants to buy a house in a Village that doesn't allow small lot chicken farms.
Laura Coen January 24, 2013 at 04:37 PM
Similar to John M (see article above) who recently moved to Downers Grove in search of a village that allows backyard chickens, we also moved to Downers Grove recently in search of properties that allow backyard chickens. We researched all local village ordinances prior to house hunting, and although DG does allow chickens we saw ZERO properties that had the dimensions large enough for chickens under the current law. Although one of the opposition's arguments is that backyard chickens will reduce property values, I personally think the lack of access to backyard chickens will be more adverse to young, progressive home buyers.
wayne enerson January 24, 2013 at 04:57 PM
elsea---Then why did you move here?? Guess my relatives were all PROGRESSIVE because they had chickens. Oh, they all had farms. Way ahead of the time for the chicken movement.
LLL January 25, 2013 at 04:52 AM
Backyard chickens in an urban setting is becoming the rule rather than the exception. Communities with a progressive stand on green and sustainable living attract citizens with those values. People with this increased awareness and value system tend to be better educated and have higher incomes so it is natural for property values in these types of communities to be higher. This is a different perspective and quickly becoming predominant. Downers Grove will embrace this at some point, because the majority of its residents are already there.

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