When JoEllen Wetzel bought her home in South Elgin 20 years ago, she thought the solitude that would come with living next to an old cemetery would be something to crow about. But by last August she decided her neighbor's new gaggle of roosters were giving her all the crowing she could handle.
"Last summer was about the worst summer of my life," Wetzel told a Kane County Board committee Tuesday. "I always thought roosters had a polite cock-a-doodle-do in the morning. Boy, was I wrong. These sounds are extremely annoying, and it's all day long. Guests to my home often ask me how I can stand the noise."
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The answer was Wetzel couldn't stand the noise. She adopted a new night ritual of downing a sleeping pill and putting in earplugs. It didn't work. Wetzel said the time has come to change county laws to reflect the fact people live a lot closer to their neighbors than back in Kane County's days of rolling prairies.
Ever since Wetzel brought her plight to the county, staff have researched the idea of banning rooster ownership for anyone who owns less than 5 acres of land. The problem with that idea is it would put many 4-H'ers out of the rooster business and life lessons that come with it. That includes Jolene Linneman, Wetzel's neighbor.
Linneman has a daughter in 4-H. She presented a petition with nearly 150 signatures to the committee. The signatures included most of Linneman's neighbors, all of whom live notably farther away from her than Wetzel. Linneman said she's made efforts to keep the rooster sounds to a minimum.
That includes enclosing all the roosters in a shed with the doors closed until at least 9 a.m. On hot days, sometimes the doors are left open longer so the roosters don't get overheated, she said while choking back tears.
"It's very emotional for us," Linneman said. "We started this project four years ago. It didn't come to a complaint until last August. Now this could wind up affecting a lot of children in our county."
Several other speakers lined up to tell the committee a 5-acre restriction would mean the death of 4-H activity for hundreds of youths in the county. The Kane County Fair is slated to have 278 poultry entries this year alone.
For county board member Mike Donahue, the comments put a damper on the need to create a law that applies to everyone in the county.
"I'm philosophically against creating a countywide ordinance that could potentially affect thousands of people when this is an issue between two neighbors," Donahue said. "I'd rather see those types of things worked out between the neighbors."
Board member Bonnie Kunkel said just because only one complaint is in the spotlight doesn't mean others aren't getting headaches from noisy roosters. She suggested a law that speaks to the location of the roosters in relation to a neighbor's property rather than the size of the overall property.
The committee compromised by tabling, for now, any talk of new rooster restrictions. The issue may be addressed during future revisions to the county's 2040 plan. That document serves as the future development vision and the associated needs for the county.