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La Grange resident continues fight for backyard chickens

Published: Tuesday, June 18, 2013 11:01 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 9:57 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Photo Provided)
Jeff Cogelja's chicken coop has been unoccupied since late last year, when the village of La Grange forced him to give away the four chickens he was housing in his backyard.
Caption
(Alex Ruppenthal - aruppenthal@shawmedia.com)
Jeff Cogelja talks before the La Grange Village Board on June 10. Cogelja, who was forced to give away four chickens last year, is asking the village to let him house chickens in his backyard as a trial run for the village.

LA GRANGE – His chickens are gone, but Jeff Cogelja isn’t staying cooped up.

Cogelja, a La Grange resident who last year was forced to remove the four chickens he was housing in his backyard, spoke in front of the Village Board on June 10, again asking the village to let him have his chickens back.

“We’re supposed to be this pet-friendly town, and we’re not allowed to have hens,” he said.

Cogelja also presented the board with sheets of signatures he collected in a failed attempt to get the issue on the April ballot. He wanted to dispel the claim that most of the 340 signatures came from residents in his neighborhood, showing officials that residents from different parts of the village signed his petition. Cogelja needed 500 signatures for a referendum.

“I will openly admit I’m woefully unaware of the facts,” said Village President Tom Livingston, who later said he intended to meet with Cogelja later in the week. “It would have to be pretty compelling to take it in a different direction, but I’ll listen.”

Cogelja had to give away his egg-laying friends last year after a neighbor complained to the village. Members of the Village Board informally polled neighbors on the topic and said they received enough negative feedback to not pursue amending La Grange’s ordinance that bans chickens, which dates back to 1981.

Cogelja asked the village to let him keep the chickens as a trial run in the village but was denied. Four Village Trustees took Cogelja up on an invitation to check out his chicken coop, including former trustee Mike Horvath.

“My view is pretty simple. It was a request that warranted due diligence process,” Horvath told Suburban Life last year. “What we did was very anecdotal. I don’t think that’s the right process. The right process would have been taking it through the Planning Commission.”

Cogelja said he knows at least four La Grange residents who keep chickens in their backyards – they just haven’t received any complaints, he said. In 2011, La Grange police helped track down and return a chicken that escaped from a backyard coop left unlatched.

A number of neighboring towns allow backyard chickens, including Western Springs, Westchester, Brookfield, Downers Grove and Naperville. Western Springs amended an ordinance to allow chickens after conducting a one-year trial with one family. The amendment requires that chickens be kept covered and gives specifications for chicken coops.

Having chickens doesn’t only bring healthy, fresh eggs, Cogelja said as to the benefits of keeping fowl. Chickens eat a lot of bugs, and their waste is a natural organic fertilizer, he said.

Before he lost his hens, Cogelja would come home from work, sit outside with a beer and watch them run around.

“They’re hilarious to watch. They’re quite the characters,” he said. “My kids were so excited the first time they went out and found an egg.”

Cogelja said the only time his chickens made significant noise was when they laid eggs, but even then, he didn’t think his neighbors could hear it from their yard.

“For the most part, you didn’t even hear them,” said Cogelja, who said his research shows that 10 chickens make less waste than one 40-pound dog.

What frustrates Cogelja most is that he was shut down based on an informal survey by Village Board members. Like Horvath, he wishes the board would have consulted the Plan Commission.

If the village were to amend its ordinance to allow chickens, Cogelja doesn’t think residents even would notice a difference.

“It’s not like everybody in La Grange is going to run out and get a million hens,” he said.

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