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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.)

Related stories:

  • 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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William Waldack January 15, 2013 at 09:08 PM
A word about Council Candidate Don Jankowski, a pro-chicken candidate for Council, who criticized me for not doing research (how little he knows) and mentioned two “studies”. I am surprised that Mr. Jankowski, who claims to have an advanced degree, cannot tell the difference between “university studies”, a term paper, and a homework assignment! One “study” he listed was a non-impartial student term paper supporting chickens and limited research to that bias and the other was a homework assignment that only gathered and compared pro-chicken ordinances. He also indicated that he would wait for Staff reports, which often include “majority” concepts. This indicates one of two things. Mr. Jankowski is either incapable of evaluating sources of data or is willing to mislead readers to bring them to his own viewpoints. IMHO, both are indicative of someone who should not hold office.
MC January 16, 2013 at 09:28 PM
I'm really intrigued with Councilman Waldack's opposition to this. He clearly doesn't like the idea of backyard hens and has been throwing out each and every possible argument against it, hoping that something will stick. "Threats to your other pets"? - What does that even mean? "Health issues to diabetics"? - How is that even possible? "Property values" - There is absolutely nothing to support this, and I have looked. If this were a problem, don't you think that cities that have permitted backyard hens would have seen negative impacts to property values and revoked the ordinance? (or, in some cases, just let built-in sunsets expire). That has not happened. You opposition borders on zealotry. It would be humorous if you weren't sitting on the Council. Every single municipality goes through this same battle because of attitudes like yours. And every time the fears turn out to be unfounded. There are hundreds of successful case studies - if you have really spent the dozens of hours objectively researching this (that you claim) you should know this. That is, unless you have been cherry picking that which supports your preconceived agenda? The body of evidence in favor greatly overwhelms that opposed.
MC January 16, 2013 at 09:33 PM
One other thing: you understand that neither the CDC nor the Humane Society are opposed to backyard flocks? These organizations have specific mandates (CDC = providing information to enhance health decisions; HSUS = work to reduce suffering of animals) so finding literature by them that raises awareness related to these concerns does not necessarily bolster your case. Here is (what I would say) their bottom line on the subject: "We have a small flock of chickens. Is it safe to keep them? Yes. In the United States there is no need at present to remove a flock of chickens because of concerns regarding avian influenza." http://www.cdc.gov/flu/avian/gen-info/qa.htm "The HSUS supports measures that reduce animal suffering, and every family that gets their eggs from backyard hens is likely reducing or eliminating their purchase of eggs laid by hens who were confined to crowded cages on factory farms." http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/farm/adopting_and_caring_for_backyard_chickens.pdf Throwing around their names and implying they have weighed in against urban chickens is disingenuous at best.
William Waldack January 18, 2013 at 06:09 PM
As I previously posted, I stand by my research and I find myself again being personally attacked, by someone with initials no less. Chicken owners are just dismissive of the arguments that have been brought up nationally. I am not throwing arguments out to see what sticks, but these are arguments that have been posted across the country. Many governments do allow chickens, as does Downers Grove, and when they changed their regulations, may were more restrictive than what our Village already allows. Carl Walsh in USA Today in “Backyard Chickens Cause Salmonella Outbreak in Dozens of States-7/5/11” A quote from a position paper “ Chickens attract rodents: Even the cleanest coop is attractive to rats and mice who enjoy the free bedding (straw and shavings) and food. Rodents are generally viewed as pests and their presence is unwanted by chicken owners and neighbors.” The paper goes on about the conditions I have echoed (not made up). The paper is put out by Animal Place, Chicken Run Rescue, and United Poultry Concerns to name a few. Chesapeake, Va. was going through what we are now and received a Staff report. Each department weighed in, so it wasn’t a Council majority telling top staffers what they wanted and having staff “recommend” based on political preferences. The Zoning Admin Dept opposed the ordinance due to negative affects on quality of life, noise, odors, enforcement difficulties, and concerns already listed. (To be continued)
William Waldack January 18, 2013 at 06:20 PM
(continued) The Animal Enforcement recommended denial because of expected increase in complaints, difficulty capturing and impounding, transmission of disease to humans, ”Chickens in residential areas may attract undesirable wildlife including rabies vectors such as foxes, raccoons, opossums, and coyotes.” They continue, “ Many residential dogs will not be accustomed to chickens and will recognize them as prey. They will not understand why chickens are not fair game.” Additional commentary indicated that dogs may themselves become a nuisance ( noise, attacks etc), that may result in the dogs being penalized! In Virginia, a dog that attacks poultry is put down. Obviously, the concern is for previously behaved dogs that may be penalized for the newly arrived “attractive nuisance”. The Health Dept listed a number of diseases and concerns and suggested ways to minimize the spread. Some diseases are airborne and they suggested avoiding infected dust by keeping it damp. (Numerous articles about smell suggest that damp chicken manure is the cause of the smell associated with coops.) Apparently, you can avoid the infectious dust and risk illness or you can put up with the smell knowing you are healthier for it? Staff had opposed the revision which would allow chicken farming on less than an acre because it was a public nuisance. Merely arguing research and facts, If MC thinks this is a shotgun approach, it's only because these are the issues.

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