Updated at 11:47 a.m. on Oct. 11.
Couldn’t let this one go without a mention. The short-lived (but enthusiastic) debate on “urban chickens” from 2010 made another appearance at this week’s Champaign City Council meeting.
The background: With few exceptions, it is illegal to raise chickens in the city of Champaign (along with lions, tigers and bears). But backyard chickens are a growing trend as some people like to raise them for their eggs, and some cities (Urbana, for one) allow residents to keep chickens in their backyard.
In 2010, Champaign City Council members had a brief discussion about whether they might be interested in changing the law, but it never got any serious momentum.
Looks like it’s still that way. The issue came up again on Tuesday night during a broader discussion on the city’s sustainability plan, which is a collection of environmentally-friendly strategies to ensure that the city can sustain itself into the future as environmental issues become more prevalent.
City administrators asked whether the city council would be interested in further exploring backyard-chicken raising as a way to allow residents to produce their own food. They were also asked if they would support further exploration of private beekeeping (yes, that’s illegal too, but most council members said they’d be interested in hearing more about it) and the planting of public fruit and nut trees on city-owned land.
As far as I can tell, council members Vic McIntosh and Karen Foster are pretty strongly opposed to backyard chickens.
Council member Deborah Frank Feinen said she does not think she’d be open to allowing chickens in a residential neighborhood.
But, Feinen said, “there may be some appropriate places within the city that are not in the middle of a residential neighborhood.”
Council members Marci Dodds and Paul Faraci said they generally agreed with Feinen.
Council member Michael La Due seems closer toward acceptance on the chicken spectrum: “I wouldn’t mind further investigating that,” he said.
And council member Tom Bruno — well, toward the end of this discussion, he removed his glasses and had about as strong of an opinion as you can have about backyard chickens.
“You can have a Great Dane that can take a chunk out of your femur, and the Great Dane has a waste issue and makes noise and barks and is big and weighs 100 pounds,” Bruno said. “They are perfectly legal. Every home on the block can have a Great Dane. They can have four Great Danes. But they can’t have one three-pound chicken.”
Bruno had chickens when he was growing up in suburban Chicago, he said. And he thinks people can get “great joy” out of them.
“I don’t know what our fear is about them. I guess that they’re an exotic animal,” Bruno said. “But they’re great neighbors.”
Read this blog post again, and you won’t find one bad pun about chickens or fowl or clucking. I cannot convey in words how much self-control and restraint it took to keep them out as I wrote this.
These are the other animals explictly prohibited by ordinance in Champaign: Turkey, geese, duck or any other poultry or byproduct birds, goats, sheep, swine, cattle, horses, or any type of hoof stock, any type of farm animal including the pygmy or miniature variety; any lion, tiger, leopard, ocelot, jaguar, cheetah, margay, mountain lion, lynx, bobcat, jaguarundi, bear, hyena, wolf, wolf-hybrid, poisonous reptile, or other animal normally wild and dangerous to human life.
Update: City Planner Lacey Rains sends this along in an email:
"We are going to do a Planners Advisory Service request for research on other communities that have chicken and beekeeping programs. Most communities have minimum lot size requirements, an annual permit and certification process (usually by an Extension agent) to ensure animals are kept in humane conditions and are healthy, a limited number of permits, a restriction on the number of birds, a restriction on slaughtering and no roosters allowed. So there are a lot of things to consider. By doing the research, Council can make an informed decision if the issue is raised by the community. Currently, there is not a big community push, but I will not be surprised if the issue is raised as the Plan is adopted."