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Aldermen peck at chicken rules

The Human Services Committee Monday postponed a vote on an ordinance to let Evanston residents raise chickens after some aldermen raised skeptical questions about the proposal.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said "I can’t see that there’s a substantial public benefit to backyard hens," Fiske added. "I think the people in ’74 (when chickens were banned in Evanston) had it right. We should not vote in favor of this."

But Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said keeping chickens at home for eggs or as pets is becoming increasingly common. "We’re surrounded by communities now that do allow hens," he said. "To me, the movement is about sustainabiity, local agriculture and teaching young people about animals."

The other three aldermen on the committee seemed to have doubts about the measure.

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, asked why the ordinance would prohibit residents from slaughtering at home the chickens they raise.

Aaron Solomon, of 2668 Gross Point Road, a member of the backyard chicken coalition advocating for the ordinance, said that’s because many people who want to raise chickens see them as pets and don’t want to slaughter them.

But Paige Finnegan, co-chair of the Environment Board, which recommended the ordinance, said the ordinance would not prohibit owners from using services that would take the chickens away for slaughter.

Jean-Baptiste said he’d thought the goal of the ordinance was to let people have fresh eggs, but now it seems it’s about keepinng chicken as pets.

Finnegan said that "It depends on who you ask — some want pets, others want egg production, and still others want chicken and dumplings."

Fiske said she "can’t see slaughtering chickens as part of a humane practice."

But Finnegan said she didn’t feel it’s appropriate to pass judgment on that. There are vegetarians and meat eaters in Evanston she said, and death is part of the life cycle of animals.

Debbie Hillman, co-chair of the Evanston Food Policy Council, said her group wants people to get closer to the source of their food. "This was an attempt to just reconnect," she said.

Fiske said, "Lincoln Park Zoo and the Museum of Science and Industry can put you closer to nature to see where food comes from."

Jean-Baptiste said he was concerned about the tradeoffs — whether keeping chickens would create odor problems for neighbors, or attract rodents or create noise.

Finnegan said that research indicates there need not be any odor or nuisance problems with keeping chickens — and the ordinance would provide the same regulation of nuisances from chickens that are provided for keepers of other animals in the city.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, asked how many residents want to raise chickens.

Carl Caneva, of the city’s health department, said 10 or 20 people have been at each of the meetings on the subject, but he didn’t know what the total level of interest is.

Fiske asked whether the city’s animal shelter is prepared to handle chickens that might be abandoned or given up by their owners, and Police Chief Richard Eddington said the shelter does have a small number of cages that could be used for chickens.

The ordinance as proposed would let residents keep between two and six hens, but no roosters, and would require the chickens to be registered with the city and have owners pay a $10 annual fee for each one.

But Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, voiced doubts about whether that would be enough to cover the costs of enforcing the ordinance.

Grover and Holmes suggested continuing the discussions at the committee’s June 7 meeting, with hopes of having more data about the experiences of other towns that have legalized chickens, the potential cost of enforcing the ordinance and the zoning implications of permitting chickens.

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