Prospect Heights to consider regulating chickens after decades of not doing so

While a number of suburbs have considered allowing the keeping of chickens outdoors in recent years, Prospect Heights officials are proposing the first true set of rules the city has ever had due to a rise of nuisance complaints over the past year.

Until now, unincorporated areas have been about the only rivals in Northwest suburban Cook County to the liberal stance the city has maintained on the domesticated fowl, Prospect Heights Director of Building and Development Dan Peterson said.

“Our animal control ordinance is silent on chickens,” he added.

But there is a nuisance ordinance, albeit one sometimes tricky to enforce.

And there are zoning regulations on the type and placement of backyard structures that could enclose chickens, which sometimes have been ignored by homeowners because the birds themselves are allowed.

Peterson still is in the process of drafting an ordinance that will be considered by the planning/zoning board of appeals at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 26 at city hall, 8 N. Elmhurst Road, for a recommendation to the city council.

“It’s a contentious issue,” he admitted. “People love their chickens.”

Still, only about 80 of the city’s roughly 4,000 homes have or have had chicken coops. Some of the rest are less open to be waked by roosters at dawn or encounter neighbors’ birds entering their property.

The proposed ordinance would require an annual permit necessitating property inspections, set a maximum number of chickens at 20, and is leaning toward prohibiting roosters.

That number of chickens still would seem generous in many suburbs where large lots aren’t as common. But Prospect Heights historically has required a minimum of 20,000 square feet for a single-family home property.

The ordinance also bans the commercial raising of chickens, and will set more specific standards for the placement of coops and runs on a property. A deadline for compliance has yet to be determined in the draft.

A taste of the debate likely to come already has been experienced in earlier public comment sessions in January and March.

While some residents are seeking peace of mind in their homes, others see this move as government encroachment on their rights, Peterson said.

“No, you’re in a zoned community,” he added. “People are very passionate about their roosters. … We’re trying to keep the emotion, as much as possible, out of this debate.”

It could be argued that a very technical reading of the zoning code allowed only the chickens that existed before Prospect Heights’ incorporation in 1976 to remain automatically, Peterson said.

But some residents have argued their ability to keep chickens until now guarantees the right to continue without regulation.

“Just because they could doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all,” Peterson said.

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