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Geneva Council Split on Urban Chickens Issue

The city of Geneva's Committee of the Whole is evenly divided on whether to support an ordinance to allow backyard hens.

Probably every person who has ever typed up a story on the topic of backyard chickens has written or been tempted to write a lead that involves the age-old question of "What came first: the chicken or the egg?"

But rarely has it been more appropriate than the city of Geneva's discussion Monday night.

Members of the City Council split right up the middle, 5-5, in a straw poll on whether they would be in favor of creating an ordinance similar to one approved by that allows folks in the city limits to keep chickens in their back yards.

Since the city of Batavia said OK to its chicken ordinance, just seven residents have applied for a permit, Geneva officials said.

Geneva resident was the person who asked the City Council to consider making chicken-raising an allowable activity within Geneva's borders. Had it come to a vote on Monday, Mayor Kevin Burns would have broken the tie with a "nay."

"I would prefer that we not go down this path," Burns said. "I will not support directing our staff at this time."

Burns' concerns were primarily with the amount of time it would take to draft an ordinance, change city codes and enforce the ordinance once approved.

Bennett said she would like to raise chickens in her back yard, probably about four chickens in all, so that her family could have fresh, healthy eggs and learn some life lessons along the way.

She also delivered a PowerPoint presentation that dispelled some of the urban myths about urban chickens.

Bennett said backyard chicken eggs are healthier than store-bought eggs, with three times more vitamin E, seven times more beta carotene and four to six times more vitamin D.

She said hens don't make a lot of noise—63 decibels tops, about the sound level of an average human conversation. The amount of odors or pests depends on the sanitary conditions maintained by the owner, she said, and were "no different than a pet."

Bennett's PowerPoint presentation showed a disturbing photograph of commercial hens crammed tightly into battery cages, which she said are being phased out in Europe. "You can't tell me anyone can keep that sanitary," she said.

She said salmonella is less likely in a home-raised chicken egg than in a commercially-raised egg. She noted the 2010 salmonella case in which 500 million commercial eggs were tainted.

Second Ward Alderman Don Cummings said he was convinced.

"When I saw this issue on the agenda, I  thought absolutely no way am I going to be in favor of this. They’ll attract predators, they’ll attract rodents," he said. "I’m convinced they are not noisy and that salmonella is preventable. If people want to do this, I’m actually now in favor of it."

Aldermen Chuck Brown, Dawn Vogelsberg, Ralph Dantino, Dean Kilburg and Cummings said they would support an ordinance to allow backyard chickens. Aldermen Sam Hill, Richard Marks, Ron Singer, Dorothy Flanagan and Craig Maladra said they would not.

The aldermen shared some interesting personal experiences that applied to the Monday-night policy conversation.

Singer said he had witnessed rats in a neighbor's chicken coop.

"I lived in an environment where chickens were right next to me, and it was just an absolute mess," Singer said. "I’m really opposed to this issue, even thinking about this."

Brown said he had fond memories of time spent on this grandmother's farm, where he tended the chickens and enjoyed the meals from the eggs they produced.

"I thought it was a wonderful experience. We had no problem, and I certainly enjoyed eating at grandma’s house," he said.

Kilburg said he would support backyard chicken-raising, even though he works in the agriculture industry and was proud that Americans had kept prices almost equal to $1 it cost for a dozen eggs in 1975.

"We probably have some philosophical differences about the agriculture industry. To say that those people are being cruel to animals is unfair," he said to Bennett. "That said, I think there’s a lot of redeeming value to this.

"If your children can benefit, I’m not opposed to it, because I’m pro chicken," he said.

The council took no action Monday night. Bennett said she might wait a year and petition the City Council again. The council also could make a motion at any time to direct city staff to draft an ordinance similar to that of Batavia.

To win a vote, Bennett would have to convince at least one more council member, because the mayor's vote would tip the scales away from the eggs.

"Resource allocation, I think, is key," Burns said. "A large percentage of time spent by (staff) are on nuisance complaints that could be solved by reasonable application of existing ordinances. From the 300,000-foot perspective it's inconsequential, but for the neighbor, it’s everything."

Mitotero August 03, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Kate: Your research has been thorough. Good luck convincing one more alderman and/or the Mayor. I would actually prefer chickens near my house than the barking dogs that live nearby.
Kate Bennett August 03, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Thanks! I think the Mayor is for sure a no-go, but I might be able to scrounge up one more alderman.
Kaitlynn Adams August 03, 2012 at 11:10 PM
Have you researched "histoplasmosis"?
Bob Loblaw August 04, 2012 at 01:12 AM
Have you? If you had, you would understand that it is no more dangerous to the average person than many much more common ailments, and the people that are most likely to be affected are also at the greatest risk for most other ailments - we're talking HIV/AIDS levels of being immunocompromised. Acute benign respiratory histoplasmosis - the type most likely to be contracted from a chicken coop - would require heavy and constant exposure to guano carrying the spores - in a small, ventilated coop, this would be almost impossible (I'd personally be worried for people working on factory farms). Most cases of histoplasmosis are mild, and many are entirely asymptomatic. And just fyi, starlings are extremely common in Illinois and are also carriers of histoplasmosis spores. You probably have many of them in or around your yard at any given time. 50 million people in North America have been infected - you could have it right now and not even be aware of it. In some Canadian and US populations, infection rates are as high as 30%.
Ellis William Bozzolo July 20, 2014 at 11:40 PM
If you want your children to have food that is raised on a farm, by all means, move to the country and have all the farm animals you want. I agree with the Mayor, if you were my neighbor you would have a new complaint every day. If I wanted to live near farm animals I would live in the country.

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