Des Plaines aldermen appear willing to let the Historic Methodist CampGround raise up to six chickens on site as part of a 4-H program, but whether chickens would be permitted throughout the rest of the city is undetermined.
Raising chickens in backyards has been debated throughout the suburbs, from West Dundee to Evanston. Only three towns out of 15 who responded to a recent Northwest Municipal Conference survey said they allow it.
Second Ward Alderman Jack Robinson proposed the city explore the issue after campground officials approached him about wanting chickens for an educational 4-H program. The campground site is bounded by the Des Plaines River and forest preserve, and is "basically isolated" from the rest of the city, Robinson said.
"This is what was in the forefront of my mind. I didn't have in mind that anybody on the block would have a chicken coop," he said Wednesday during a meeting of the city council's legal and licensing committee.
But whether the council could allow only one institution in town to have chickens -- and not other property owners -- is subject to debate.
City Manager Mike Bartholomew said it's possible the council could consider an ordinance with as many as 15 criteria for any property owner to meet in order to raise chickens. The rules could be crafted in such a way that the campground would be eligible, and it may turn out that a handful of others become eligible as well.
Dee Hilbert, a campground program coordinator, is proposing as many as six chickens be raised by the 4-H club, involving eight participants ages 8 to 17. The chickens would be kept on site from June to November, then given back to a farmer. It's part of an overall plan to revitalize the historical 35-acre site at 1900 E. Algonquin Road.
Sixth Ward Alderman Mark Walsten said he favors expanding such a program citywide, perhaps making available 10 licenses to residents on a first-come, first-served basis. Those who get licenses would have to abide by established rules and regulations, and have their neighbors give permission, he said.
"I don't know how you can discriminate against others in the city and say the Methodist CampGround only can do it," Walsten said.
First Ward Alderman Patty Haugeberg said that at one time chickens were permitted throughout the entire city; in fact her grandfather had a chicken coop and even sold eggs on River Road. But that was when properties were much larger and the population less dense.
"I can understand one entity in Des Plaines where I think this could work very nicely, but as far as a residential area, where lots are really not that big, I think it could end up being very interesting," she said.
Resident Dion Kendrick told aldermen the chickens were OK for the campground but not in backyards throughout the city.
"Des Plaines is not a rural area. It is an urban area," Kendrick said. "There's plenty of eggs around. If you want farm fresh eggs, go out in the country and buy them."
The council is expected to discuss the issue again July 21.