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updated: 8/1/2012 9:24 PM

Chicken-keeping gets cool reception from Geneva officials

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Geneva officials are not inclined to let residents raise chickens in their backyards.

The city council, in an informal straw poll Monday, voted 5-5 not to have city staff work up an ordinance changing the city's rules.

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Mayor Kevin Burns, citing the increased workload it would put on city staff, voiced a tiebreaking "nay."

"My visceral instinct is that this is not a good allocation of resources for our residents and our community," he said, speculating that most residents would say the council was wasting its time on the matter.

Resident Katherine Bennett asked for the change. She said eggs from free-range chickens that are allowed to eat a natural diet contain higher levels of vitamins and other nutrients, that chickens benefit the environment by eating ticks and Japanese beetle grubs, and that by raising their own chickens, people can assure themselves they are not obtaining products from chickens kept inhumanely in crowded cages on commercial farms. "Every egg I buy is paying for that. I'm not sure I'm OK with that," she said.

She also pointed out aspects of the chicken-raising ordinance the Batavia City Council adopted in spring 2011, which includes limits on the number and sex of chickens, and rules about how far back chicken coops and runs have to be from neighboring properties.

Community development director Dick Untch and city administrator Mary McKittrick told the council to consider the additional work that would be required of city workers in light of staff reductions in the last four years, and what Untch called the "incremental" addition of tasks to his department, which includes the building department. City workers would possibly have to rewrite parts of the zoning ordinance, and if the change went through, review permit applications, inspect coops and runs, and investigate complaints. The same point about staff time was raised last year when the council decided to allow businesses to have sandwich-board signs on the sidewalks, by permit, in the downtown.

Aldermen Ralph Dantino, Chuck Brown, Don Cummings, Dawn Vogelsberg and Dean Kilburg voted in favor. Kilburg did so despite disputing some of the research Bennett presented. Kilburg grew up on a farm in Iowa and works for the poultry services team of Ridley Feed.

The criticism of commercial poultry farmers " ... is really sort of unfair," he said, adding that for optimal egg production, it's in the best interest of the producer to treat chickens humanely. Using battery cages has enabled American agriculture "to produce food for millions of people," he said, and that a battery cage ban enforced recently by the European Union drove suppliers there out of business and raised prices.

Brown recalled fondly collecting and eating eggs when living on a grandmother's farm as a child, as did Alderman Sam Hill. But Alderman Ron Singer recalled living next to a neighbor, in another town, who kept noisy chickens in an unkempt coop that smelled foul and attracted rats, which then entered Singer's home.

"I'm really very opposed to this issue, to even thinking about it," he said.

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