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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 voted down a resolution allowing residents to have a limited number of chickens on their properties.

Earlier this year, the 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.

Ron McClellan August 17, 2011 at 08:44 PM
Okay, now comes the fun part. You go after the people who voted against you as soon as their seats come up for election. And ya don't just focus on the Chicken aspect. You go back over records, meeting minutes and agendas, media reports, etc. and find EVERY thing these people have done that is questionable or silly (shining a light on silly things they've done is a GREAT tactic, and make sure you get the word out in the next election cycle. You also let these people who voted against you Know, right now, that this is exactly what you intend to do. You also let them know everything you are doing, as you do it. Then, once you have gotten their attention, you bring your chicken issue back up, you get it back on the table, and if they don't like it, tough cookies. You make unreasonable politicians pay dearly for making/supporting stupid ideas.
Scott M August 17, 2011 at 11:02 PM
I am a resident (since '85), and I am pleased that this was not approved. Furthermore, I have been extremely pleased with many of the longtime members of our City Council including the mayor. Time and again they have held the interests of the majority of citizens in mind and have not succumbed to the cries of a few "squeaky wheels". I am a very pleased citizen of Crystal Lake and intend to let my votes reflect this.
babs August 18, 2011 at 01:07 PM
I am in support of people taking care of themselves, growing their own food, and things like that but I was worried about this chicken idea. Especially in Crystal Lake where it seems every other house has dogs. I know dogs are loud and messy and some people would like to ban them but they are here and probably not going away. My neighbor's dogs bark and bark at anything,(I do want them gone!) can't imagine what they would do if I had chickens in my backyard(which I would like by the way). I have seen what happens when dogs get into a chicken coop area, not a pretty site. These dogs dug under their fence, then the fence for the chickens and it was a slaughter house. If you want chickens, go to a rural area, I no longer see Crystal Lake as rural, we are a sea of subdivisions.
Margie S August 18, 2011 at 03:02 PM
Time for some new City Council members and definitely a new mayor. People should have the right to own chickens. What has happened to America? We can own guns, but not chickens. It's truly a sad state of affairs.
Christy M August 18, 2011 at 03:28 PM
Too bad they couldn't have decided on a limited trial like McHenry is talking about. I think people who are against chickens might change their minds if they actually lived near them. Did you know that you can have chickens in Evanston? You don't get more "not rural" than that!
Jessica A August 18, 2011 at 03:40 PM
I, too, am glad that this issue was put to rest. Chickens are not pets...they are farm animals that provide us with food. They should remain in the care of those that can responsibly raise them! Imagine if just anyone off the street could have chickens in their yards...the disastrous possibilities are endless.
Mary Virginia August 19, 2011 at 04:10 AM
Chicago allows them and we have much smaller yards and closer homes. There are rules about how many and perhaps how far from fencelines. And no roosters or slaughtering are allowed. And it isn't like we don't care about property values here. Maybe it is that we are more diverse and open-minded than many suburbs? I had a speaker at our garden club who raised fowl as a kid. I learned from her that the fears of smells and disease are unfounded. BTW - No one requires proof that owners can responsibly raise cats and dogs. So that argument is flawed. Chicken owners teach each other and there are online support groups. Chickens are great for gardeners since they eat pests and poop manure. Also fresh eggs are the big draw. I bet kids would love having chickens.
E Blome August 29, 2011 at 01:00 PM
Mayor Shepley got elected because he was a squeaky wheel for a personal cause much more specific to himself than what we are talking about here. Raise your hand if you are tired of toadies and local despots populating City Council and the chamber. This issue goes way beyond a few harmless hens in a few families backyards. And remember, this is the same group that rushed through an ordinance to allow large crazy RV's parked all over Crystal Lake. I'm sure that helps the neighborhood immensely. DUMB
Maggie April 03, 2012 at 10:58 PM
ummm Babs the real issue is the ordinance is for all of McHenry County.. Hello???!!! this is the sticks. If you have chickens and no rooster there is no noise there is fertilizer for your lawn. There is non-chemicaled eggs for your table, whats your point? A dog might get into the chicken coup? Paleese Your So Full of It. CHICAGO allows chickens is that rural enough for ya?
Maggie April 03, 2012 at 11:02 PM
OMG,,, run the invasion of the chickens..the devistation the inhumanity of it all.
babs April 03, 2012 at 11:10 PM
ummmmmmmmmmmmmMAGGIE! My father-in-law lives in the country and his dogs got out and got into a chicken coup. It was not at pretty sight at all. The dogs got out by digging under the fence. It costs him pretty penny to replace the chickens and the repairs on the coup. What is it I am full of? Nice way to make your point!
babs April 03, 2012 at 11:17 PM
or Maggie, here is a thought - move to Chicago so you can have your chickens or run for county board so you can change things, at least get out to vote
babs April 03, 2012 at 11:18 PM
or city council
E Blome April 03, 2012 at 11:23 PM
Hens are harmless compared to rotweilers or other biggies. Dogs fight each other. No different than a comparable domesticated bird or a rabbit. Quiet. small poops. This is an issue of ignorant people thinking they know about chickens based on knowledge acquired through the media. We have raised hens here and in CA for years. They are quiet, beneficial and harmless, especially in small numbers as requested. What a silly impingement on liberties. What next, corn?
Dave Christiansen April 12, 2012 at 09:56 PM
I'm voting against the chicken haters.
Laura H June 02, 2012 at 07:30 PM
I can own dogs, cats, a bunny or two but can't have 2 chickens in my yard to help defray the cost of feeding a family of 6. It is sad to see people so afraid of what they don't understand! Chickens are not as loud as dogs and provide insect control and a fresh healthy food supply. I deal with the unnatural noise of lawn mowing, blowing and edging starting as early as 8 am on the weekends but people are worried about "clucking and scratching"? I would be responsible for the cost and care just as I am with my dogs so any argument of cost or upkeep is irrelevant. I am questioning the mental stability of those who wish to even eliminate dogs because they bark!?!? Maybe a better way to handle the situation would be to allow people to own their chickens but create boundaries just as the city does with the number of dogs I own or how many garage sales I have. Require a "chickens as pets" class or a certification for responsible egg collection. All this tells me is that the people in charge aren't informed and simply don't care to be. When someone in office wanted an RV, that's when the RV ordinance was passed-- I guess we have to wait until they are sick of paying $5 for 12 organic free range eggs at the grocery store!
Maggie June 03, 2012 at 12:24 PM
Laurie, this really doesn't have anything to do with chickens. We're talking about McHenry County. There are few to little job opportunies, for real jobs, I'm not talking about working at a fast food or retail establishment. I consider those part time jobs. Where someone can keep a yard full of autos and surch, parts tires, garbage in thier yard degrading the property values of there neighbors, A community that has run out their developers because of inconceivable linmitations and investment in property border bonds and easements. Where they install a monoply for garbage pick up eliminating any competition. Yep we're talking about McHenry County and some would say if you don't like it her why not get out.. Well. just waiting for the property levels to climb a bit more so I don't loose everything I've put into it.
Michael April 21, 2013 at 04:02 AM
This is absolutely ridiculous! Saying any irresponsible person can own a chicken is no where near the danger or property distruction that can happen with an irresponsible pitbull or Rottweilers owner. This is just like the gun law matter. There are responsible owners and irresponsible owners. The irresponsible owners should be punished not everyone else. Chickens are clean and incredibly helpful animals. Much better helpers than the average cat or dog. Chickens provide insect control, great soil for gardens which makes property look better, and clean fresh food on the table. It's sad how a city council clearly doesn't know anything about owning these animals. I'm 13 years old, moving to Crystal Lake in a month and am very disappointed in their ignorant decision. Even I understand the stupidity of this. Owning and caring for chickens is a great responsibility and hobby for kids like me. It's another activity to occupy teenagers minds rather than doing something pointless for the future like violent video games or getting into trouble. I truly hope they wake up and re look at their decision. If they don't then gone with them.
E Blome April 21, 2013 at 07:39 PM
Michael, there are a whole new set of politicians coming into city council and the mayor seat. Go in there and speak your mind when you become a member of our community! And Welcome.

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