Cluck No! Crystal Lake Bans Residential Chickens
A tied council vote nixed the possibility of revising the ordinance prohibiting residents from keeping chickens within the city limits.
Erik Blome’s chickens won’t be coming home to roost after the Crystal Lake City Council voted down a resolution allowing residents to have a limited number of chickens on their properties.
Earlier this year, the city ordered Blome to remove his four hens from his Crystal Lake residence or pay a fine. Reluctantly, he sent them out of the area, their fate in limbo.
Told the family pets were farm animals, the city said he was in violation of a city code prohibiting them on residential property.
Blome launched a campaign urging the city to change the ordinance to allow residents to have a limited number of hens on their properties. The campaign drew a large number of supporters not only in Crystal Lake, but in surrounding McHenry County communities as well. He and supporters asked the city council to reconsider the ordinance during its July 5 meeting.
As a result of the effort, the city initiated an investigation into the feasibility of revising the ordinance to allow hens. A study conducted by the Engineering and Building and Planning and Economic Development departments collected facts about chickens, noted concerns such as disease and nuisances and surveyed residents and surrounding communities favoring “backyard chicken farms.”
The results were presented to the city council at its Aug. 16 meeting, and were fiercely debated among council members.
With Councilwoman Cathy Ferguson absent, the vote ended in a tie with Ralph Dawson and Ellen Brady Mueller voting it down and Carolyn Shofield, Jeff Thorson and Brett Hopkins supporting it.
Dawson said enforcing proposed restrictions on backyard chickens as outlined in the proposal would be problematic.
“If there’s a violation, where will we bring the chickens?” he asked.
Mayor Aaron Shepley also voted against the proposal, arguing that allowing hens might affect property values, might attract predatory animals and rodents, and that it potentially could open the door for residents who might want other farm animals as pets — such as goats and ducks.
“In my mind, it is the committee’s responsibility to provide for the welfare of the community,” he said.
He maintained it was not fiscally responsible to spend thousands of dollars more than it already had with the research project.
Had the measure been approved, the Planning and Zoning Commission would have initiated a public hearing to gather the public’s views about changing the ordinance that prohibits keeping chickens on residential property. Then the proposed ordinance changes would come before the council again for a final vote.
Shofield argued that shooting down the proposal at this stage deprived the community of the chance for dialogue with officials.
She said after hearing six supporters of Citizens for Chickens in Crystal Lake address the council at the Aug. 16 meeting and the number of supporters who completed the survey favoring the change, the city owed residents that courtesy.
“It is quite obvious to me that people in this community want a change,” she said. “It’s not fair to the public (to vote) without a public hearing.”
Shepley pointed out that the residential surveys were very close as far as those wanting backyard chickens and those not wanting them.
He noted that all the supporters addressing the council before the vote was taken stressed the importance of the food factor rather than that of a cuddly pet, although proponents of backyard chickens say hens are personable, clean and friendly.
He said that in his book, a focus on food production constitutes a farm animal, not a pet. To attempt a change in the ordinance could open the door to people demanding other farm animals be allowed to reside on personal property within the city limits.
With his vote against the resolution creating a tie, the motion failed.
Blome was angered at the decision.
“I’m going to vote against everybody who voted ‘no’ in the next election,” he said.
Blome considered Shepley’s argument about the possible decline of property values nothing more than a “con game.”
“He wanted to kill it before we got anywhere with it,” he said.
Blome’s not sure what his next move will be, other than to somehow keep the pressure on. He’s already submitted a petition in support of his goals to no avail.
Anna Evans, of rural Woodstock, had made a plea to the council about the benefits of backyard chickens prior to the vote, reminding council members that other McHenry County communities were taking note of how the city handled things in light of their own ordinances.
“This isn’t just about Crystal Lake,” she said.
It was her hope that if the city went forward with changes that other communities would follow suit.
“I am very disappointed,” she said of the outcome. “Laws should change as times change. There are a lot of people watching Crystal Lake.”
Research conducted by the two departments included general facts about chickens and concerns about their inclusion in the city’s residential areas, including diseases, nuisances, code compliance and the possible attraction of rodents and predatory animals.
Of the 49 area municipalities that responded to the city’s survey, 35 percent allow backyard chickens and 65 percent did not, said Engineering and Building Director Erik Morimoto.
West Dundee is the only nearby town that permits it, he said.
Results from the Crystal Lake residents that responded to the survey were publicized on its website, at Three Oaks Recreation Area and area newspapers.
Altogether, there were 176 individuals who responded to the survey, he said. Of that number, 55 percent favored the change, but not all of the respondents indicated they were residents of Crystal Lake, he said.
Of the 68 who listed Crystal Lake as their residence, 58 percent favored the change.
Shepley said even as late as the night of the council meeting, emails were coming in from people voicing their opinion. He said the numbers between those supporting backyard chickens and those opposing it were very close.
Meanwhile Blome’s four hens continue to reside in what was hoped by his family to be a temporary abode outside the city limits, their future now uncertain.