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Downers Grove council approves backyard chicken ordinance, Rogers Street apartment building

After more than a year of discussion, the village council passed an ordinance allowing more residents to keep backyard chickens.
After more than a year of discussion, the village council passed an ordinance allowing more residents to keep backyard chickens.

DOWNERS GROVE – The village council put to bed the long-running backyard chicken debate, approved a new apartment complex and looked at a new development agreement with a national grocery at its meeting Tuesday.

1. More residents will now be able to have backyard chickens

After more than a year of discussion, the village council passed an ordinance allowing more residents to keep backyard chickens.

The new ordinance reduces the mandatory property line setbacks for a chicken coop from 50 feet to 7 feet. Under the old ordinance, there were only about 500 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 deferred the topic to this January.

The new ordinance is a compromise hashed out between council members over the last month.

"We've been talking bout it for about a year and half," Commissioners Geoff Neustadt said. "I think that it's important that we come to a conclusion and give it a trial."

Neustadt, Mayor Martin Tully, and commissioners Bob Barnett and Becky Rheintgen all voted in favor. Commissioners Greg Hose and David Olsen voted "no." Commissioner Sean Durkin was absent.

Olsen long held the position that he did not want to change the ordinance.

In addition to reducing the setback requirement, prospective hen owners would be restricted to four birds and would have to acquire an $84 permit from the village, and obtain consent from neighbors. The permit would have to be renewed every five years. At that time, hen owners would have to re-obtain consent from existing neighbors and any new neighbors.

Hose made a motion during the meeting to reduce that permit renewal period to two years, to give neighbors a quicker chance to reconsider if the hens become a perceived nuisance. The motion failed, and Hose voted against the ordinance.

2. A six-story apartment building gets approval for Rogers Street

Setting aside some concerns over building height and traffic, the village council voted to approve a special use for a six-story apartment building proposed for the eastern edge of downtown Downers Grove.

"We're looking at a building that is within the height that is allowed in our downtown transitional district," Olsen said. "As much as I do have a concern with the height … it's also something that's permitted under the ordinances that we currently have. I don't feel it would be appropriate to reject a building that is lawful under our ordinances."

The upscale complex proposed for 715-719 Rogers St. would be marketed to young, professional commuters looking for housing in the downtown Downers Grove area.

Mayor Martin Tully pressed that point, pointing to the need of apartments near public transportation the village wants to attract and retain young professionals.

The development asks for no zoning variances, and adds landscaping and green space beyond what is required by village code, as well as a stormwater filtration system.

The project, located between the Main Street and Fairview Avenue train depots, would replace a blighted industrial building and include two floors of parking with 98 spots. Above that would be four levels of one and two-bedroom apartments, 48 in total. Because of the sloping geography of the site, the first floor-and-a-half would be partially built into the ground.

Apartments would range from $1,400 a month for one bedroom and $2,200 a month for two bedrooms.

Each apartment would feature hardwood flooring, stainless steel appliances and granite counter tops, a covered balcony, and a washer and dryer. The steel and concrete building would have a terra cotta exterior and a rooftop garden patio.

The council did express some wariness with the exterior architectural design, which Olsen described as institutional. But he and others remarked that the council should not be in the business of making aesthetic judgments.

"I'm very happy that's not something were going to get into," Hose said. "I'm not sure there's anyone in the village who wants the seven folks up here … deciding what certain architectural projects look like … I think that's best left up to market forces."

3. The village will consider $550,000 reimbursement to developers of planned Fresh Thyme grocery store

The council heard the first reading of an agreement that would reimburse the developers of a Fresh Thyme grocery store planned for the 4300 block of Fairview Avenue for some of the project's infrastructure improvements.

The $550,000 reimbursement would go to help cover some costs related to burying overhead utility lines, and towards stormwater management improvements. The agreement would require the developer to finish the project by July 1, 2015, Downers Grove Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Michael Cassa told the council.

The council is expected to vote on the item at the May 13 meeting.

If approved, developers would build a 29,000 square-foot Fresh Thyme Market, and a 4,500 square foot out-building at the southwest corner of Florence and Ogden Avenues.

William Natale, of the 400 block of Lake Ave., presented a petition with 65 signatures protesting the zoning and traffic plans included in the development. He said trucks should be restricted from entering the grocery from Fairview Avenue, and only allowed to enter on Ogden Avenue. He said neighbors are concerned that trucks will end up on Lake Street, which is a cul-de-sac, and that it will also congest Fairview Avenue to an unusable degree.

"The greatest concern that we have is that a child is going to be killed by one of these trucks," he said.

Jennifer Mowen of GreenbergFarrow Architects, who is working with the developers, said Fairview Avenue is an authorized truck route in the village.

Commissioner Bob Barnett supported the project but said he did share some of the neighbor's concerns regarding traffic.

"This is exactly the kind of thing I'm hoping we're going to be able to do more of up and down Ogden Avenue," Commissioner Bob Barnett said.

Tully, Neustadt, Rheintgen, Olsen and Hose all also voiced support for the project. Sean Durkin was absent.

The Downers Grove Fresh Thyme location would be part of a major Midwest expansion.

The new specialty grocer features "healthy and organic value-priced offerings" and plans to open 60 new stores and create about 5,000 new jobs throughout the Midwest over the next five years, the company announced in February.

The stores will feature a produce section including locally-sourced and organic items. The stores will also have a butcher shop, a dairy section featuring local items, a bakery, the Fresh Thyme Kitchen with salad bar, a wine and craft beer section and a supplement, vitamin and body care section.

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