Chicken Debate Comes Home to Roost in Northbrook
Community members pressure village to reconsider its chicken ordinance; opponents worry about property values.
If chickens cross the road into Northbrook, so to speak, it won’t be without opposition.
At a meeting held Tuesday night to discuss village regulations on keeping chickens, residents clashed over whether the animals belonged in barnyards or backyards. Currently, village ordinance prohibits residents from raising chickens on lots smaller than two acres—meaning the vast majority of people cannot do so.
“I would hope that Northbrook would take a fresh new look at this,” said resident Christine Buti. “You can keep a few chickens without neighbors even knowing.”
Fellow resident George Stutz disagreed.
“I do not like the notion of having chickens in my neighbor’s backyard when I’m sitting on my patio,” he said.
Like other suburban communities around the country, Northbrook is faced with a growing demand from people who want to produce their own food locally and sustainably—including raising backyard chickens for their eggs.
Nearby municipalities such as Batavia, Evanston and Northfield have recently enacted legislation permitting a limited number of chickens in coops located on small lots. The issue came to the fore in Northbrook this November, when a resident asked the board of trustees to reconsider village regulations.
Tuesday’s meeting, held by the village’s communications and legislation committee, was about equally attended by proponents and opponents of raising chickens. Detractors said they worried the birds would attract predators, cause disease and possibly even lower property values and make Northbrook less desirable to new homebuyers.
“The other side of this issue is the right of our residents not to live next door to barnyard animals,” said resident Adele Sturgis.
But Buti and others said they believed that with a properly written ordinance—like ones enacted in Evanston or Batavia—chickens could be kept without being a nuisance to others. And, she noted, when NorthShore University HealthSystem studied the issue of disease and chickens for the City of Evanston, the research institute concluded that backyard chickens were not a serious concern when it came to avian flu or salmonella.
Buti is one of approximately 15 people who have already approached the village about raising chickens, according to animal control officer Gina Manski. Manski also said that in the past five years, she has only had to remove chickens from two homes due to violations of village ordinance.
Trustees Consider Property Values, Personal Liberty
Trustees Todd Heller, Robert Israel and Kathryn Ciesla, the three members of the communications and legislation committee, all said they supported allowing chickens on smaller lots in Northbrook.
“I have a hard time telling people what to do and what not to do as long as it doesn’t affect the health and safety of their neighbors,” Ciesla said.
But trustees James Karagianis and Michael Scolaro, who sat in on the meeting, both said they were concerned that allowing this personal liberty would actually infringe on the liberty of other residents—and bring down the character of the community as a whole.
“The people that I’ve talked to are not very fond of this issue,” said trustee James Karagianis. “You’ve got to regulate things, or you’ll have chaos.”
Scolaro worried that allowing chickens on smaller lots would deter potential homebuyers, a serious concern at a time when many homes are already in foreclosure.
“I think in today’s world, we have to look out for our homeowners,” he said.
Documentary Filmmaker Speaks Up For Chicken Raising
Among the attendees at the meeting was Northbrook resident and Columbia College film professor Jeff Spitz, who is making a documentary film about “food patriots”—people who are changing the way Americans eat.
“I’m very interested in actually trying something hands on and learning where my food comes from,” said Spitz.
Spitz and his family keep chickens at their Northbrook home, and his son, A.J., and wife, Jennifer, also spoke at the meeting. A.J. said that he loved raising chickens and enjoyed eating their eggs.
“Every time Jeff and I pull in, he’s got a couple of kids and they’re holding the chickens,” Jennifer said. She ordered the birds from a catalog as chicks several years ago, and said she didn’t realize until later that they were actually illegal on her less-than-two-acre plot.
“People have all sorts of pets, so two little chickens—it never even occurred to me,” she said.
Along with his family, Jeff Spitz also brought a camera crew to the meeting, which was held in a small room on the second floor of Village Hall. Their presence ruffled feathers almost as much as the debate over chickens.
“I don’t want a camera stuck in my face,” said George Stutz, who confronted Spitz after the meeting. “Now we’re going to be possibly put on film showing how unenlightened we are.”
Village attorney Stewart Weiss, however, told Stutz that videotaping is perfectly legal so long as it is not disruptive of a public meeting.
Ultimately, the communications and legislation committee moved to send the matter to the village board, with the recommendation that Northbrook amend its chicken ordinance to be like Evanston. The neighboring municipality currently allows a limited number of chickens on any property so long as they are kept in a coop that meets city inspection criteria.