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Backyard Chickens Ruffle Feathers in Northbrook

Trustees consider revising municipal regulations on raising chickens.

Chicken was on the menu at Northbrook’s most recent village board meeting.

After a resident asked trustees to revisit regulations on raising chickens, board members weighed in Tuesday on whether backyard fowl should be allowed—and if so, under what conditions. Ultimately, they voted 4-2 to send the matter to the communications and legislation committee for further discussion.

“I think there is a movement in this country to have local food and to have sustainable food, and I think that we should at least look at it,” said trustee Todd Heller. 

Northbrook joins a growing number of communities in Illinois and around the country that have relaxed regulations on raising chickens. Locally, municipalities such as Batavia, Long Grove and Evanston have recently revised their codes to make it easier for residents to do so. In September 2010, for example, the Evanston city council made it legal in for so long as they apply for a permit, while Batavia on the matter in May 2011. 

Under Northbrook’s current municipal code, residents are only allowed to raise chickens if they have at least two acres of land. No more than three chickens may be kept at one time, and their coop must be 150 feet from the property line, according to Tom Poupard, director of development and planning services. 

Because few people have two acres or the space to set back a chicken coop, the village’s standards make it impossible for most residents to raise chickens, he explained. The regulations bring up some of the same issues as the village board considered when it drafted code relating to front yard gardens after neighbors complained about . 

Board Considers Noise, Odor and Effect On Property Values 

Trustees Michael Scolaro and A.C. Buehler III both opposed changing Northbrook’s current code on chickens and voted against moving the discussion to committee.

“If you’ve been out to Batavia, you might notice some differences there,” Buehler said of the community 40 miles west of downtown Chicago. “I don’t think you’ll see a windmill on our corporate logo.”

Scolaro said chickens aren’t comparable with domestic pets such as dogs—and he worried that loosening regulations could create further problems. Neighbors might get into disputes over noise, and chickens on one property could lower the property values of another, he said. 

“The laws of unintended consequences could take over here and we could become the residential chicken farming capital of the world,” Scolaro said. “I don’t think that’s what I want for Northbrook.”

Trustee Heller said he thought chickens weren’t necessarily a greater nuisance than a noisy dog—and he supported residents’ efforts to raise food sustainably and locally.

Trustee Bob Israel said it was a matter of personal liberty. 

“If somebody wants to do that and it’s their own property, I don’t have an objection to it,” he said.

As long as the village was careful in crafting regulations, residents should be able to raise chickens responsibly, said trustee Kathryn Ciesla. 

“I don’t think there’s going to be a huge run on Northbrook residents going out to buy chickens,” she added.

At Least Two Community Members Are Ready For Hens

If the village were to change its regulations regarding chickens, six-year resident Christine Buti would probably be among the first to set up a coop. She’s the person who launched the discussion when she asked trustees to take a look at the municipal code in November. 

Buti would like to raise chickens on her property because she believes it’s a sustainable, healthy way to provide her family with eggs. She noted that homegrown eggs have significantly less cholesterol and more antioxidants than typical store-bought eggs. And, she said, dogs actually create more waste than chickens do.

“As long as you don’t have a roosters, hens make very, very light clucking sounds,” she added. “Some people have chickens for years without their neighbors even knowing about it.”

Also advocating for chickens at the meeting was Noreen Garrard, a Northbrook resident who maintains a second property in unincorporated Northbrook. 

“The reason we originally moved to unincorporated Northbrook was because chickens were legal,” she said. 

Garrard said the chickens she raises in unincorporated Northbrook are practically family pets.

“I have pictures of my children, sometimes as young as 1, 2 years old, sleeping in the front room with a chicken on them,” Garrard said. 

Her children show goats and chickens as part of the agricultural program 4H, and often the family donates the eggs to local food shelters.

“I just wanted to make you aware that there are people in Northbrook that have them and nobody knows about it,” she said. “Even a lot of the neighbors that do know don’t care.”

 

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