Council votes 8-1 for chickens; final approval of rules all that's left

CHAMPAIGN — The city's ordinance won't prohibit residents from counting their chickens before they hatch or putting all their eggs in one basket, though it's still not recommended.

City council members voted 8-1 on Tuesday night to move closer toward allowing backyard chickens within the city limits, a practice that has been banned as a matter of city ordinance for decades.

City planner Lacey Rains Lowe presented the proposed rules for keeping chickens, which she said are designed to minimize calls to the city and conflicts between neighbors.

Champaign residents would be allowed to keep between two and six hens — no roosters. Among the rules, those wanting to buy a few chickens — "hen enthusiasts," as city officials have referred to them — will need to register their "farm" and pay a one-time fee to the city.

Administrators said that fee should be $50. Some city council members said that number seemed a bit high and should be lowered to $20. The rules will still need to be finalized at the city council's next meeting.

Residents who have a history of breaking the law — for example, if they owe the city money or if they have been cited for certain code violations in the past five years — will not be eligible for chicken permits.

"If you have a history of violating the rules, we don't want to give you a license and expect you to follow the rules," Rains said.

Chicken coops will need to be built to certain specifications and be located at least 5 feet from property lines and 25 feet from neighboring homes. Otherwise, "hen enthusiasts" will need to make sure they are following all the other existing city rules on noises, animals and odors.

Some city council members stressed that homeowners should check their deed covenants before they run out to get their chickens. They and their neighbors may have agreed to never keep hens when they bought their properties.

Council member Tom Bruno said it has been "illuminating" to see how many residents have expressed an interest in keeping chickens.

"I think this has been a very fun exercise," he said. "It seems a little light-hearted, although it's serious business for some folks."

That said, he thought the rules may have even gone a little too far. He said most of the regulations were fine, but he wished residents wouldn't have to come to the city to pay a fee and file paperwork.

"I think this is not a dangerous experiment that we could go into that without this license, without that $50 fee, and we would be just fine," he said.

Council member Deborah Frank Feinen said she thought it is a well-crafted ordinance.

"I think this ordinance is a nice balance of allowing it to occur and alleviate some of the concerns of people who are not hen enthusiasts," she said.

Vic McIntosh cast the only no vote on Tuesday night: "I just personally don't think this is a good idea," he said.

Resident Debbie Campbell, however, has been following the process throughout the months officials have considered opening the city up to backyard chickens. She grew up around chickens, her parents still keep them in a small town and she is looking forward to getting some of her own.

The fresh eggs are nice, but it's about more than that.

"It's just something really nice seeing chickens walk around in your yard, doing chicken things," she said.

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Mr Dreamy wrote on November 12, 2013 at 10:11 pm

"It's just something really nice seeing chickens walk around in your yard, doing chicken things," she said.

Monkeys would be more fun. You know, walking around your yard, doing monkey things. 

DEB wrote on November 13, 2013 at 6:11 am

I hate monkeys. Monkeys spread disease.

Chickens are tasty. My (unregulated by the city, pet) hawk thinks so also.  (Along with cats, rats, rabbits, and other vermin.)