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Chicken issue stays cooped up in committee

Fans of backyard chickens will have to wait at least until next month for a decision on their legality in Evanston after Human Services Committee members deadlocked on the issue this week.

With Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, absent from Wednesday’s meeting, the remaining committee members split 2-2 on whether to send the proposal to legalize hens to the full City Council for action.

The August meeting will be the fourth time the committee discusses the issue, which some residents have been pushing for nearly a year.

Aldermen Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, and Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, voted against the ordinance. Both said they worried about the financial repercussions of allowing hens in the city.

"When we go through and make all of these changes, they have to be paid for and they have to be enforced," Holmes said. "I just don’t know how we’re going to do that."

Fiske said she hasn’t received one positive reaction to the ordinance from a resident in her ward. She said she thought permitting chickens would strain other areas of city government to benefit a small number of people.

"I would hate to think that there would be one building that we couldn’t inspect because the property inspector was off looking at backyard chickens," she said.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said the city would be able to work with the Backyard Chicken Committee to figure out the best way to integrate hens into the city code. Evanston already regulates dog and cat owners, so "the structure is already in place," she said.

"Adding hens to the mix, I’m not sure that it’s so enormous that it would be a deterrent for us to permit hens," she said.

Both Grover and Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said there’s already a hen population in Evanston – some Backyard Chicken Committee members have them – so it makes sense to start regulating them. "It’s probably better to know where they are and be able to keep track of the health situation," Tendam said.

Despite their presence, Police Chief Richard Eddington said the police have never received a nuisance complaint about the hens.

Representatives from the Backyard Chicken Committee and the Evanston Environment Board said allowing residents to keep hens would allow them to produce their own food and be more sustainable.

Susan Besson, co-chair of the Evanston Environment Board, said the ordinance advances the fifth goal in the City of Evanston’s Strategic Plan, which is to lead by example "through sustainable practices and behaviors."

Later Wednesday night, committee members discussed the possibility of allowing Evanston restaurants to expand business through mobile food trucks. Resident Michal Yariv said she found this ironic.

"It floors me that a proposal to allow mobile food trucks is being welcomed with open arms while the ability to allow citizens to produce their own food is being met with so much resistance."

The committees next meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 2, at the Civic Center.

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