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updated: 5/16/2011 10:01 PM

Batavia OKs backyard chickens

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Fans furtively raising fowl in Batavia can come out in the open -- the practice is now legal.

The Batavia City Council voted 9-5 on Monday to allow residents to raise up to eight chickens in the backyards of single-family houses.

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The vote came after months of resident input and discussion by aldermen at city services committee meetings.

Alderman Susan Stark asked to amend the proposal to prohibit chicken coops and runs within 30 feet of any occupied structure other than the owners', saying neighbors need more protection than originally proposed. The amendment passed, 10-4. The original motion called for chicken coops and runs to be treated like other accessory structures, such as tool sheds, which can be as close as 6 feet to a lot line.

"Initially I was opposed to chickens, but as I became more educated about chickens I realized this is a movement that is not going away," Stark said.

The structures must allow at least 4 square feet per chicken, and roosters are not allowed. Residents will have to get a building permit and a separate chicken permit.

Although people who already are raising chicken said noise from the animals is minimal, the council included a provision that the cackling and clucking not be so loud as to disturb a person "of reasonable sensibilities," similar to its law about dog noise.

Runs will have to be enclosed on top to prevent predators from swooping in to grab chickens. Chickens will have to stay in the coops and runs, not wander the yard.

Chicken feed will have to be in secure, covered containers, and spillage swept up, to keep mice and other rodents away. Owners won't be able to sell eggs, nor will they be able to kill their chickens on their property except for unspecified humane reasons. And if you live in neighborhood with a homeowners' association and covenants, those covenants and associations will be able to determine whether or not you can raise chickens.

Batavia has banned raising fowl within 200 feet of any home since 1991. That law was adopted, according to Mayor Jeffery Schielke and Alderman Eldon Frydendall, after an elderly resident who had hens and roosters became overwhelmed by the responsibilities, and odors and noise disturbed neighbors.

The measure was proposed last fall by two residents who are advocates of sustainable food practices and eating locally produced food. Proponents say eggs from "pastured" chickens are of higher quality, including superior in nutrition, to eggs from chickens raised on factory farms. The difference is due to diet -- chickens are allowed access to the outdoors to eat bugs and plants. Some people also feed table scraps to their chickens.

Opponents argued at committee meetings that chicken-raising was something to be done on a farm, not in the city. They worry that the presence of coops in neighbors' yards will diminish the value of their properties, that noise from chickens will disturb them, that there will be unpleasant odors and that predators such as coyotes will become more prevalent in town -- attracted by the chickens, but also endangering pets and small children. One protester circulated a flier that called raising chickens "low class."

Aldermen Dawn Tenuta, David Brown, Michael O'Brien, Lisa Clark and Janet Jungels voted against the measure.

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