Chicken legalization looks like it will not fly
In the past few weeks, the city’s chicken ban has gotten more public comment than the city budget (which, for those paying attention to the budget, was adopted last week with $2 million in reductions).
So, in my head I’m trying to weigh which issue would be more important to detail in my first blog post.
For those of you who haven’t been following the chicken ban (and simultaneously cracking as many bad chicken puns and cliches as you can scratch together), a group from the St. Jude Catholic Worker House a few weeks ago asked city officials to legalize backyard chickens.
Property maintenance inspectors had previously found an illegal coop in the Catholic Worker House backyard, and now those chickens have crossed Wright Street in Urbana — where keeping the backyard birds is legal. Below is a photo of the now-empty chicken coop.
A quick status update on the Champaign backyard chicken movement: at the moment, it’s not moving. A few weeks ago, Mayor Jerry Schweighart circulated a petition among the city council members to determine whether the issue should be placed on an agenda for further discussion. Five council members need to sign the petition in the affirmative to get it on a council schedule, and so far no one has done so, according to Schweighart.
On the other hand, three council members — Schweighart, Kyle Harrison and Karen Foster — have signed the petition indicating they do not want to see the issue on a council agenda.
“I don’t think the city’s a place for raising chickens to begin with,” Schweighart said. “And then there’s a disease out there that’s associated with chicken poop.”
He’s referring to histoplasmosis, a lung affliction that he mentioned to me a couple weeks ago. I’m not a doctor, nor am I a chicken expert, so I can’t say whether the disease is dangerous or easily contracted.
What I can say (because the mayor has told me this) is that Schweighart is trying to draw a parallel between the chicken issue and the smoking ban: If you supported the smoking ban for fear of lung disease, Schweighart says, you should support the chicken ban for the same reason.
Some council members, without committing their support, have said they are willing to consider legalizing chickens. Tom Bruno used have chickens in his yard when he was younger and living in suburban Chicago.
“We had six or eight chickens in our backyard, and they were no different than maybe having a pet dog,” Bruno said.
Bruno said he would be willing to have a council study session on the topic to hear what the concerns are. If he is convinced that there is no disruption to the health and tranquility of the community, he might support it.
“I hate to see government prohibiting things without having some serious reason,” Bruno said.
It might be unlikely we’ll see this on a council agenda in the very near future, but before you cluck at this idea, I will say that this is a growing effort across the nation. Urbana has its own "Chicken Effort."
For reference, here is Champaign's ordinance banning chickens (note that chickens are banned along with lions, tigers, bears and a host of animals I’ve never heard of).
Would your feathers be ruffled if your neighbor had a chicken coop?