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Council getting closer to allowing more backyard chickens in Downers Grove

Published: Friday, March 21, 2014 11:21 a.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 9:51 p.m. CST
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Downers Grove commissioners revisited the long-discussed fowl ordinance during its meeting Tuesday, and directed staff to prepare an ordinance that would not only reduce setback requirements for chicken coops, but also require residents who want hens to obtain consent from their neighbors.

DOWNERS GROVE – Downers Grove commissioners are ready to consider a compromise which expands the number of homes that could raise backyard chickens.

The council revisited the long-discussed fowl ordinance during its meeting Tuesday, and directed staff to prepare an ordinance that would not only reduce setback requirements for chicken coops, but also require residents who want hens to obtain consent from their neighbors.

The decision to require either neighbor consent or simply neighbor notification was the crux of Tuesday's conversation.

"I actually would be fine without the consent or the notification because there's a lot of things you can do right now with pets and other things that don't require notification," Mayor Martin Tully said. "There's a risk we create a precedent that doesn't currently exist, that if people really thought about it long and hard and started applying it to other things on their property, (they) would probably be storming village hall with pitchforks."

Commissioners Sean Durkin, Greg Hose and Bob Barnett supported the consent option.

"I think there are certain expectations living in a suburban community, and I don't think those are unreasonable expectations … to not have chickens next door," Hose said. "I don't think it's unreasonable to want them, and I think the way to balance that is with the consent model."

Commissioners Geoff Neustadt and Becky Rheintgen supported notification, but both, along with Tully, said they will compromise and support consent.

"If that's what it takes to move this forward, aces," Tully said.

Village Manager David Fieldman said staff will prepare the new ordinance for a first reading at the April 18 council meeting.

Commissioner David Olsen was among those in attendance who supported keeping the current fowl ordinance intact.

The ordinance allows residents 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.

Backyard chickens were discussed extensively in early 2013, though that council decided not to make any changes, and decided to take up the topic again this January.

During the impasse in 2013, Tully volunteered to let a resident whose yard is too small to have chickens temporarily keep them in his yard, which meets setback requirements.

He said his first-hand experience with the animals dispelled any concerns with noise, smell or sanitation he might have had a year ago.

Residents at Tuesday's meeting offered mixed opinions, ranging from resisting any more chickens, to saying the consent model is too stringent and gives too much property control to a neighbor.

Former commissioner William Waldack, a strong opponent of allowing more residents to have chickens, said he worried about bacteria and other disease from hens crossing property lines.

"If you want to put up a building around your property to prevent any of it from floating into mine, fine," he said. "Keep the diseases off my property."

Resident David Thompson currently has backyard birds and described the animals as a bonding force in his neighborhood.

"They're fun, they're great," he said. "All of our neighbors are excited about having them. And it brought us all kind of together."

He supported the consent option, because it would facilitate neighbor communication, he said.

"You actually go to your neighbors and say, 'hey do you mind if we have chickens?'" he said. "'Do you want to get involved in it, do you want to do it?' And if they say 'no' … you don't do it."

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