Downers Grove revisits backyard chicken ordinance

DOWNERS GROVE – Initial debate between village commissioners revisiting the fowl ordinance centered on whether residents should be simply notified, or whether residents would provide consent or objection if a neighbor wanted backyard chickens.

The Downers Grove Village Council met for an informal, round-table discussion with residents following Tuesday's village council meeting to discuss whether to loosen the requirements allowing residents to raise backyard chickens.

Ahead of the meeting, Village Manager David Fieldman prepared three options following one-on-one meetings with councilman.

The first option would be to not change the ordinance.

The current ordinance only allows residence to keep backyard chickens in a coop at least 50 feet from lot lines, meaning there are only about 500 family parcels in the village that would be able to have the birds, according to village documents.

The second option would reduce the setback requirements, but also create a required license or permit. The village would only create a limited number of licenses and they would be awarded first-come, first-serve. Neighbors would also be notified of the license or permit application and would be allowed to to comment and object the permit.

A neighbor objection would prevent the village from issuing the permit, according to village documents.

A third option would also reduce the setback requirement, but there would be no fowl permit or license. Instead, residents would have to obtain a building permit for the chicken coop. Neighbors would also be notified, but a neighbor objection would not prevent the village from issuing the building permit, according to village documents.

Based on data from other towns, village staff estimates that less than 30 permits would be issued.

Mayor Martin Tully said after extensive first-hand research he no longer had health or sanitation concerns with the birds.

He said he supported the third option, as did commissioners Becky Rheintgen and Geoff Neustadt. Tully said allowing residents to veto a neighbor's request for birds also created an excessive administrative burden where city staff would have to serve as a mediator between parties.

"I think it just creates a precedent that just doesn't exist right now," he said. "If you build a fence, you don't have to get your neighbor's permission."

Fieldman also said during the meeting that from his experience in previous towns, requiring neighbor consent "lengthens the staff burden exponentially."

"The applicant feels like it's an unfair process, and so does the neighbor," he said. "As the [objecting neighbor], it feels like it hurts their relationship."

Commissioners Greg Hose, Bob Barnett and Sean Durkin voiced support for option number two, which requires neighbor consent.

"I don't think it's unreasonable to want to raise chickens in your backyard," he said. "I also think that it's reasonable to expect that living 20 miles from the third biggest city in the country, you probably aren't going to have chickens living next door. And I think the way to balance that is to come out with option two."

Commissioner David OIsen was absent but provided a statement to Tully that said his initial stance is to not change the ordinance, but that further discussion could change that position.

The council did not take formal action on the ordinance during the meeting.