MONTICELLO — After six months of discussion, the city council this week unanimously approved an amended animal ordinance that limits the kind and number of animals allowed within city limits.
Going into effect Jan. 1, it expands a ban on livestock to horses and most "beaked" animals except chickens (hens only). Residents are allowed six hens as long as the animal enclosure is 150 feet from neighbors' homes and 20 or more feet from the nearest lot line.
The issue is likely not over.
Cody Sanantonio, the owner of the Metamorphosis Montessori School in Monticello which houses a miniature horse, roosters and about a dozen chickens, has indicated she will test the new law in court. She declined to comment after Monday's meeting.
"It's a little closer to being resolved, but if there is a lawsuit, it could go on for years," said Monticello Mayor Chris Corrie. "But both sides think they are correct."
The issue came up in May when neighbors of the Montessori school complained about the smell produced by a pair of sheep Sanantonio used in her curriculum. When an exemption for the sheep was not granted, she found a home for the sheep and purchased a miniature horse, which was allowed under the former ordinance.
Roger Simpson, the local attorney representing the private school, said case law conflicts with the new law's non-conforming-use exemption, which makes allowances for a 75-foot setback between chicken coops and surrounding homes for those who already have the animals.
Simpson feels the law should also allow non-conforming uses for other animals that were allowed under the previous ordinance, including roosters and horses.
"There's considerable case law that says that non-conforming uses — uses that were once legal — can continue until such case they are abandoned by the owner, destroyed by the owner or changed in such a way they are no longer protected," said Simpson, who asked the council to "at least delay passage of this to see if my arguments have any weight."
City attorneys dismissed his claims.
"It's a distinct power of municipalities to control animals," said Dereke Price of Diamond, Bush, DiCianni and Krafthefer of Naperville, adding that his research shows that right even precedes zoning rights.
"We cited four different sources of that power (to control animals) in the ordinance, and it all precedes zoning. Before the time of Abraham Lincoln, animals running amok in town was a problem," added Price.
In the public portion of the meeting, Stacy Cribbs said she realized "you can't please everyone" but was "disappointed" only one council member visited the school before voting Monday.
"You didn't look at the facts," Cribbs said. "You were not able to make an informed decision."
On the other side of the issue, neighbor Nancy Brazas urged the council to vote on the issue "so we can be done with it. It's gone on long enough." She said the dispute had caused problems between neighbors and fellow citizens, and that it was time to "rip the Band-Aid off."
The law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2013. Residents who currently have animals that are allowed have until January 2014 to comply. Those who have chickens can apply for a non-conforming animal certificate only for the 150-foot setback for chickens, but if allowed would still need to limit the number to six hens and meet the 20-foot setback between enclosures and neighbor lot lines.