Naperville chickens ruffle some feathers

It started with five chickens being raised in a Naperville man’s backyard.

Three years later, the flock in the coop behind David Laird’s home has grown to 20 chickens. Now some neighbors are complaining that what was once a fairly innocuous 4-H project for Laird’s son — and a way to get fresh eggs — has gotten out of control and must be curbed.

Homeowners on both sides of Laird’s Rivanna Court property are urging the Naperville City Council to re-examine a decades-old city law that puts no limits on the number of chickens one can have, as long as the pen is cleaned once every 24 hours and is kept at least 25 feet from neighboring homes.

Naperville is 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. But in an email to council members, Laird’s neighbors stressed the city is “no longer a rural farming community but residential with nice homes and smaller backyards.”

One of the neighbors, Susan Borghesi, says she’s concerned about the smell from the chicken waste, the potential for chickens to attract predatory animals to the area and the unsightliness of the large coop.

“I’ve got nothing against my neighbor, fresh eggs, or chickens,” Borghesi said. “But this has just gotten to be too much. Four or five chickens? Whatever. But why do you need 20?”

Even Laird admits that his 20-bird flock may be too many for a residential setting.

“It was never my goal to have this many chickens,” said Laird, who bought the first five chickens to give his youngest son, Michael, a 4-H project.

Laird says he also was hoping to “get some fresh eggs out of the deal.” Things went well, he said, until a second group of purchased chickens failed to produce as many eggs as expected and needed to be replaced.

“It got a little out of control,” Laird said. “I could see it becoming a train wreck, but my kids are attached. (The chickens) all have names.”

His neighbors want Naperville’s code updated to draw the line at four chickens. They also are pressing for regulations that specifically forbid roosters; prohibit coops from being placed fewer than 50 feet from the nearest occupied residence; and require permits for owning the birds.

“Residents deserve protection from the unpleasantness of chickens near their homes,” they wrote in their email.

Not everyone in town is having a bad chicken experience, though.

Timothy and Phyllis Rossow, who were unavailable for this story, are known to have three egg-laying chickens. Their neighbors say the Rossows keep their chickens and the coop impeccably clean.

“The chickens are never a problem. You almost don’t even realize they’re there,” said neighbor Tim Benson. “And sometimes (the Rossows) bring us fresh eggs, so that’s a nice perk.”

Naperville Councilman Bob Fieseler raised the chicken issue during the council’s Aug. 16 meeting but said he’s not in favor of expanding the city’s code for something he feels should already be covered under the city’s nuisance codes.

“Having a few chickens is like having a bunny or two leftover after Easter,” Fieseler said. “If you have too many and they become a nuisance, we already have a code for that.”

City officials are recommending some changes to the existing code, however, and council members will be getting their first look at them tonight.

The proposed changes include instituting a permit process for chickens. Residents would pay $35 up front for city staff members to review the coop placement plan and $45 for staff members to come check the placement once it’s constructed. The proposed changes also include a requirement that all coops be screened by a fence or landscaping by June 2012.

Officials aren’t recommending the council limit the number of chickens allowed or prohibit roosters.

“Deciding a limited number would be rather arbitrary considering that we maybe get a couple complaints a year over the last 10 years,” said John Rutkowski, operations manager for the city’s development services team.

Rutkowski said the permitting process would allow the city to get a better handle on how many residents have chickens.

“Right now we have no way of knowing, aside from those few complaints that we do get, how many chickens are out there,” he said.

The council will meet at 7 p.m. today at city hall to discuss the proposed code changes. Laird and his neighbors say they’ll be there to voice their opinions.

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