Hundreds in Palatine sign petition asking to allow backyard chickens

  • Mallory Miller and her daughter Inde Mazza, 9, are among supporters of a growing initiative to bring backyard hens to Palatine.

    Mallory Miller and her daughter Inde Mazza, 9, are among supporters of a growing initiative to bring backyard hens to Palatine. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 7/31/2021 9:09 AM

Nine-year-old Inde Mazza of Palatine learned about caring for chickens while attending Montessori schools and spending a week every year on a farm downstate.

"They are omnivorous and they will eat just about anything," Inde said. "My favorite reason (to have chickens) is that they are really fun to play with. ... If they are really fast, it's kind of like playing tag."

 

Inde's mother, Mallory Miller, also has become a fan of chickens. They make good pets, their eggs are fresher than those at the grocery store, they reduce waste by eating food scraps, and they reduce demand on factory farm eggs, where conditions are terrible, Miller said.

Mother and daughter are among supporters of a petition to create an ordinance allowing backyard coops with hens -- not roosters -- in Palatine. The petition had 419 signatures as of Friday afternoon, with a website at palatinecluck.com and a Facebook page at Facebook.com/PalatineCLUCK.

Suburbs that allow backyard coops include Elgin, Des Plaines, Villa Park, Wauconda, Wheeling, Grayslake, Rolling Meadows, Highland Park, Naperville, Deerfield, Oak Park and Evanston. Libertyville, Lincolnshire, Mundelein, Buffalo Grove and Arlington Heights are among those that do not.

This is not the first such initiative in Palatine. A similar effort in 2012 didn't succeed after opponents said coops would be unsightly and hens would draw predators. The village council responded by adopting a code amendment that allows residents to apply for backyard hen special use permits by submitting a plan, having a public hearing before the zoning board of appeals, and getting approval from the village council.

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In the last nine years, the council approved one backyard hen permit and turned down another four or five. The resident with the permit has generated no complaints, Director of Planning and Zoning Ben Vyverberg said.

Suburban backyard hen ordinances spell out things like maximum number of hens, coop setback from neighboring properties and more. If the council is hesitant, it could start with a pilot program with a limited number of permits, resident Julie Picchiotti said.

Sensibilities around backyard hens are changing and the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted more people to take up gardening and increase sustainability, Picchiotti said. She and her husband -- whose mother and grandparents had chickens -- have always wished for a backyard coop, she said.

"We were bummed about the rigorous process in Palatine," she said.

Supporters of backyard coops say that concerns about noise and smell are overblown.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I grew up with ducks and chickens and turkeys on about a half acre property with my mom and grandfather," said Eevin Dunning, who hails from San Diego County and lives in Palatine with her husband and two children.

"They are no smellier than a dog," Dunning said. "They make a little bit of clucking when they lay their eggs. They sleep overnight -- when the sun goes down, they instinctively go to their coops."

District 1 Councilman Tim Millar and District 2 Councilman Scott Lamerand said they are comfortable with how the village regulates backyard hens. Both pointed to the fact that the process solicits input from neighbors via mailed notices and a public hearing.

Palatine has a wide range of property types and sizes, so case-by-case evaluation works best, Millar said.

"In my neighborhood, people I have spoken with, 9 out of 10 would be against (an ordinance)," he said. A petition with thousands of signatures might move the needle, and perhaps an advisory referendum could be held, he said.

Supporters of backyard hens plan to present their petition to the village council sometime in August.

"There's definitely a movement," Miller said. "People want this."

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