Chicken debate returns to College Township agenda

With residents still riding both sides of the issue, an ordinance allowing chickens will be up for another public hearing during the College Township Council meeting Thursday.

Two public hearings, in July and August, have already been held and each time council sent the ordinance back for reworking.

Concerns about the sights, sounds and smells associated with the animals have been the main concerns of those who are against the ordinance. To counter the concerns, supporters have said noise concerns are minimal, and chickens could provide a great benefit to the community.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Sue Smith, of Lemont. “College Township has a terrible problem with ticks, and chickens love to eat ticks.”

Lemont resident Jackie Bonomo said chickens do a lot for the landscape. “They clean up bugs, I can use their manure in my garden and they provide fresh eggs,” she said.

And while fresh eggs prove popular in a community that promotes local sustainability, council members are concerned that too many residents will hang their arguments for the ordinance around that one point.

“I understand the sustainability and local/fresh movement — my younger brother has chickens at his home in Maryland,” Councilman Rich Francke said in an email. “But Council must take all perspectives into mind.”

According to Francke, his two ongoing concerns are respect to one’s neighbor and whether the ordinance will remain cost-neutral within the township.

Remaining cost-neutral, or ensuring enforcement of the ordinance won’t cost extra or take staff time away, is achieved in the ordinance, he said. However, keeping coops 40 feet from adjacent property doesn’t seem enough when considering noise or smell issues.

“The current version is an improvement with a ‘closer to the chicken owner’s home than the neighbor’s but no less than 40 feet to the neighbor’ provision,” he said. “The reality is that could be 40 feet, 1 inch in homes separated by 80 feet, of which there are many.”

Council Chairman Eric Bernier said he agreed with his colleague, saying, “It’s not just allowing (chickens), we have to have an ordinance crafted that if they are allowed, we have to provide enough protection if an owner is less responsible.”

Now, it’s a question if the ordinance has been tweaked enough that it will get a majority support by the council, he said.

There is an option to have the ordinance added as an agenda item following the public hearing, he said. The council could adopt, not adopt it or send it back to the Planning Commission for additional tweaking.

“I think I’ve had more people comment to me about chickens than any other issue of recent memory,” Bernier said.