Champaign working on rules for keeping chickens
CHAMPAIGN — After city council members said last month they were ready to let the fowl play in residents' backyards, a city planner says administrators are running into some unique questions as they begin to write an ordinance on owning hens.
City officials are now building rules and a program from scratch that would allow residents to keep hens in their backyards — a practice that is already in place in Urbana with little regulation.
Champaign planner Lacey Rains Lowe said a team from several city departments — planning, legal, neighborhood services and police — is working through the problems of how to allow residents to keep chickens without letting it get out of hand.
Among other rules, they are looking at a maximum number of hens residents may keep, whether they will need a permit or registration, and how to guide chicken coop design to keep it within existing zoning codes.
"This is unique for me because it's not a planning-only type of an issue," Lowe said. "So many other departments are involved at various levels."
She said she has learned a bit more about chickens in the process — for example, chicken herders generally order their chicks according to a schedule. While city officials still do not know when they might have a proposal to bring back to the city council for formal approval, Lowe said, she's keeping chicken schedules in mind.
"We're also trying to be timely about this," Lowe said. "From what we understand, most folks order their chicks and receive them in the springtime, so we'd like to be able to work with that schedule."
Some people order their chicks through the mail, Lowe said, and some hatcheries send more chicks than what the purchaser ordered in case — you know — not all of them make it. So what happens when a resident orders the maximum allowed by law and they get an extra chicken free?
Lowe said planners are also working through what might happen if a resident gets a rooster by mistake. The city plans to strictly prohibit roosters, but Lowe said the gender of a chicken isn't always known until it reaches a certain age.
City officials are "looking toward advice from other communities as they've moved through this process and the hiccups they've run into," Lowe said.
Meanwhile, Champaign resident Karen Carney is planning a panel discussion for next week at the Champaign Public Library for people who are unfamiliar with keeping backyard hens or for those who want to learn more.
"I had a lot of people ask me what does this whole thing entail," Carney said.
It will be an "information session for the curious," Carney said, and a networking opportunity for those who are already involved in keeping backyard chickens.
Deborah Campbell of Champaign will be on that panel. She has roughly 20 years of experience keeping chickens.
"She's kind of the backyard chicken hands-on expert," Carney said.
Lisa Bralts-Kelly of Urbana and a representative from University of Illinois Extension are expected to be on that panel, too.
It is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday in Robeson Pavilion rooms A and B in the Champaign Public Library, 200 W. Green St.