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updated: 3/8/2011 10:52 PM

Chicken debate continues in Batavia

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Chickens are loud, dirty, disease-bearing animals whose manure stinks, whose feed attracts rodents and cockroaches and whose presence attracts predators such as coyotes and foxes.

Or pastured chickens are beautiful, great pets, eat nuisance bugs, provide excellent fertilizer for gardens and bestow richly-colored, highly nutritious eggs.

Both were argued Tuesday night before the Batavia city services committee, which has to decide whether to recommend to the city council that people be allowed to keep chickens in backyards or not.

More than 50 people turned out; the majority of the speakers were in favor of a proposal to allow people to keep up to eight hens in backyards, in coops and runs no closer than 20 feet to lot lines. Several of the speakers admitted to already raising chickens, although the practice is illegal.

But there were opponents, too. Besides the smell and noise concerns, some worried it would cause property values to drop, and others think it is just not an appropriate activity for city life. Several suggested that if people want to raise chickens, they should move to a farm.

"We have eggs at the store; there are enough farmers markets around where you can buy organic eggs or poultry or whatever else you want," said Debra Damon.

"I don't know if it is worth it to do this for our community just because people don't want to pay $4 for organic," said Al Phillips. He said he grew up on a farm with 12 chickens, and that they smelled bad and had lice and mites. Since the proposed Batavia law would prohibit slaughter, he questioned how people would dispose of dead chickens, saying putting them in a garbage can would attract rodents.

But others, including several teenagers and adolescents, spoke in favor of keeping chickens. One described how he used diatomaceous earth to dry up chicken manure, preventing smell. Others told tales of growing up with chickens that became so friendly, the birds would actually sit on their shoulders.

Jim Kirkhoff said that, being as how he is not an early riser, getting pastured eggs at a farmers market is difficult as they are snatched up first thing. He also noted that towns such as Downers Grove, Evanston, Naperville and St. Charles allow chickens, and their average property values are higher than those in Batavia.

Committee chairman Jim Volk instructed the city's building commissioner to research two ideas brought forward by residents: requiring a minimum square footage per chicken for the coops to keep the birds healthy, and limiting the number of coops allowed.

The committee will discuss, and may vote on, the matter March 30. Its recommendation would be passed on to the full city council.

Chickens have been banned since the early 1990s; the law was enacted in response to a situation where a resident who kept dozens of chickens was not taking care of them properly, causing a bad smell that disturbed neighbors.

Two residents last year asked the council to revisit the issue, and researched it for the city council. They suggested allowing up to eight hens per residence, not allowing roosters, and requiring coops and runs to be set back at least 20 feet from neighboring houses. The committee is considering requiring the setback to be from lot lines instead. The coops and runs would have to be in backyards.