Naperville's chicken owners scored a victory Tuesday night as councilmen declined to address staff recommendations to tighten restrictions on the keeping of urban fowl.
There was likely no one more surprised in the council chambers Tuesday night than resident David Laird when the council voted against proposed changes to the local laws that would have installed a $85 permit process, required screening or landscaping to hide the chicken coops and changed the original language to require the coops be clean at all times.
"I'm absolutely shocked. I'm really surprised," said Laird, whose neighbors' complaints about his 20 chickens spurred city staff to propose the rule changes. "The city does need to ascertain information about the number of birds that are in the area. But I think the thing that nailed it is that the city said they only get two or three complaints a year and the city don't want to deal with nothing small like that."
Laird's neighbors Ron and Susan Borghesi, however, felt the proposed restrictions weren't enough and asked the council to limit the number of chickens allowed to five, prohibit roosters and require coops be set back at least 50 feet from neighboring homes.
Both said they were "disgusted" Tuesday night that the council opted to not further regulate the birds.
"You've got a number of councilmen saying they made a decision based on a handful of problems but handfuls of problems count," said Ron Borghesi. "That means there is a resident who has a problem and the council is supposed to address any resident's problem."
Laird said his 20 chickens began as a 5-chicken 4-H project with his son and grew from there. Despite the city not taking any action, Laird said he understands he believes trimming the flock to about 10 chickens is "probably the right thing to do."
Councilman Steve Chirico, the one councilman who voted against doing nothing said he felt sympathy for the Borghesis.
"If that were my neighbor, I may have a problem with it as well. I think a restriction in the number and increase in the distance should be considered," Chirico said. "That would allow people to have the hobby or grow organic food and do it responsibly."
Mayor George Pradel and councilman Doug Krause pressed to squash the issue for fear of over-legislating.
"I grew up in Naperville in a time when it was common for families to supplement their food supply by gathering eggs," Pradel said. "I'm wondering why we are making rules here for something that should be handled on the basis of one on one. How big of a problem do we have?"
Transportation, Engineering and Development Director Marcie Schatz indicated that the city received a "handful" of complaints every year.
Krause agrees, saying the city needs to "address the one or two complaints" a year and move on.
Tuesday's inaction leaves Naperville as one of a few municipalities -- including St. Charles, Batavia, Oak Park and Chicago -- that allow residents, with a few conditions, to raise chickens at home.