Evanston aldermen voted 6-3 early this morning to allow residents to keep up to six hens in a backyard coop.

The vote capped a year of efforts by folks who like the idea of really fresh eggs to overturn a 1974 city ordinance that had banned the birds.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, was on the losing side of the chicken debate.

The the city ruffled the feathers of the chicken fanciers when Laurie Zoloth, a bioethics professor at Northwestern was hauled into the city’s administrative hearings court and fined for keeping chickens in her backyard a year ago this month.

The ordinance, as amended, will require people who want to keep chickens to pay a $50 license fee and keep the chickens under sanitary conditions in an enclosed coop that has to meet city rules for accessory structures on a building lot. They’d also have to provide notice to their neighbors of their plans to set up a coop. And the ordinance bans residents from keeping roosters — male chickens — because of the loud noise they make.

Aldermen Judy Fiske, 1st Ward; Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, and Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, voted against the ordinance.

Jean-Baptiste and Holmes said most constituents they spoke with about the ordinance opposed it — fearing the chickens would attract rodents, make a lot of noise and smell.

Fiske said she believes backyard chickens are a fad and that the city should require approval from neighbors before permitting a resident to keep them.

Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, offered several of the last-minute amendments to the ordinance that the council adopted. They included a provision that would let a city-wide limit of 20 coops expire after 12 months. He said that if problems develop with the chicken-keepers over the first year of the ordinance the aldermen could change the rules, but that assuming the program operates smoothly, there’s no long-term need for the cap on coops.

Related link

Pictures of dozens of chicken coop designs (BackyardChickens.com)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Stupid!

    Just what we need, more things in peoples yards that they don’t take care of. You want fresh eggs, move to a farm in DeKalb! You better believe that if any of my neighbors decide to go ahead with this hair brain idea, I will live up to my name and have the authorities there in a split second.

    This is one of the DUMBEST ideas that the council has passed. There was obviously a reason why they outlawed the coops in 1974! People are plain lazy, you really think they are going to keep up with chickens when they can’t even mow their yards or pull a few weeds?

    Just stupid!

    1. Mowing lawns and pulling weeds

       Gladys, do you think its really intelligent that everyone has to burn 60 million year old fossil fuels on cutting blades of mutant corn in their yards (kentucky blue-grass).   Do you really think that pulling or poisoning weeds is good for our future, good for our children?    I suppose you are the type who wants to kill every insect that might possibly be eating those precious grass roots, even if those insects are part of our ecosystem, and have been there long before you or I have resided on top of that soil.

      If someone were to have a couple hens in their back yard, it is very likely that if it weren’t for the fact that they are supposed to notify all of their neighbors, you would never even know those hens where there.   I think you should be more concerned about the stray cats killing all the native birds and rodents that are not part of their natural food chain.    The stray cats were never native to North America, and people like you find the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent birds a perfectly acceptable casualty for making your little kitties happy.

      I think there are so many things that are a concern in life, such as making our environment healthy again, getting consumption of the earths resources under control for the future of our children’s children, that having a few hens in the back yards of the few people concerned enough about the quality of foods they consume shouldn’t be an issue for anyone.  Also, maybe you should take a visit to a factory farm and see how you feel after you come out.  (hint:  you won’t like it)

      And about your concern of attracting "wolves and coyotes" to our neighborhoods.    Coyotes are already plentiful, and if your eyes are open, you can regularly see one crossing a road in the early morning hours or at dusk.   There is also a very healthy population of those ever so scary red tailed foxes.    Wolves, I’m sorry to tell everyone here, are likely to never exist in Chicago or the suburbs.  They don’t thrive in the city ecosystems, and currently live hundreds and hundreds of miles away from us.   (Ask someone in Minneapolis if they are scared of those big bad wolves.   They will happily inform you that even though wolves do not live that far away from Minneapolis, they don’t have any wolf problems of their own)  Also, foxes and coyotes are actually doing us a lot of good by helping control the over population of cute bunny rabbits.   (Maybe not for that ferrel pet kitty cat that may be munched on by an occasional coyote, but I say good for the coyote)  

      Gladys, from your comments, it appears you are not all that educated about the environment and nature. It would do you [and everyone concerned] a lot of good to keep yourself  uninvolved in topics that you are obviously uninformed about.  

      Evanston is very progressive, and people choose to live here because of the forward thinking people you and I are surrounded by.   If you don’t like it, maybe you could consider relocating to Texas (not Austin, as I hear its actually very modern and full of educated people).

      Way to go Evanston!   Great job on some forward thinking.    Next up, lets reduce our plastic bag consumption.   



      1. GOATS!

        The next thing you will want are goats so you won’t have to mow your lawn…

        But really, let me tell you what I know about chickens. Mu uncle owned a farm in unincorporated Elgin for over 50 years, when he got to old to take care of the farm he sold off most of the land but kept the chicken coop. Not very big, maybe 20 chickens or so. Every summer I went to the farm to help out and let me tell you from first hand experience, chickens are smelly, vial noisy creatures.

        So when you buy this chicken coop, how do you think it will be delivered to you? On a truck, that uses fossil fuel. In the winter when it’s cold, how will your chickens survive? Bu you using an electric space heater or some other heating device that will do what? Burn fossil fuel. How are you going to pick up your chickens? On a bike? No. You will drive a car. When you have to dispose of the waste, how will you do that? Put it out for the trash man who drives what? A truck that burns fossil fuel.

        Don’t give me this holier than thou, I’m doing more than you for the environment garbage. You are not.

        Here is a way to be eco friendly.

        • Use compact florescent light bulbs (95% of the lights in my house are CFL)
        • Install a programmable thermostat
        • Use light timers (or photo sensors)
        • Install low flow fixtures
        • Change your furnace filter
        • Install energy efficient windows
        • Walk to work
        • Have fewer children!
        • Re-use your grocery bags to take your lunch to work
        • Recycle. How many of you actually use the city’s recycling service?

        But don’t sit there and tell me that having chickens in your yard is going to save the environment, cause when this chicken fad is over, well have a lot more stuff to put in the land fills!



        1. Now Gladys …

          First off, you can get a breed of chicken that is extremely low maintenance…  Even weathering the hardest of winters.

          Your neighbors dog crapping all over the yard can be more vile then a couple of hens kept in some clean bedding.    Also, chicken poop makes wonderful fertilizer.     You don’t need to throw it in the land fill.

          We have gotten rid of all our mercury tainted CF bulbs in favor of repairable LED bulbs.

          Going down your list, we do everything on your little "be a better environmentalist list" but are actually one better on most of it.


  2. You move to DeKalb

     Maybe you should move to DeKalb Gladys since they aren’t raising anything edible out there. You can be surrounded by like minded people who love to eat junk, drive their cars and complain about things that shouldn’t concern them. You can live there and be surrounded by fields that grow GMO crops and spray pesticides and live in an area that is just afraid of things as you are.  Honestly, – really chickens? – that’s what gets you upset?  How about drug dealers, gun shots, pipe bombs, school crowding – maybe Glayds you should find a cause that will actually benefit your community- rather than complaining about a few people wanting to have their own eggs. 

    It is people like you that give Evanston a bad rap- why not try to do something positive in Evanston- rather than squawking about something that will not even effect you. 

    1. What gets me upset…

      Is lazy, stupid people driving down our property values with their asinine idea of raising chickens. How many times have you called the police on drug dealers? I bet I got more under my belt than you do. Have you taken the Citizens Police Academy offered by the EPD? I have! What have you done for this city other than support the idea of bringing down property values, bringing in rats and mice, possibly even wolves and coyotes?

      I live in Evanston, because I want to live in a city (and something better than Chicago) not in the country. What do you think this is Green Acres?

      Go buy a farm Oliver!

    2. “you should move to Dekalb?”

      I understand your thought process about overprocessed foods, pesticides, and all the other environmentally aggregious things around us. However, we do live here in Evanston and as citizens we each have the right to manage our own properities as we see fit, whether we chose to fill out front yards with sustainable fruit and veggie plants or not. The chicken raisers are the minority among us, so why not suggest they move to the west edge of Dekalb into open space where they can raise what they want?

      You state that this backyard chicken ordinace ‘will not affect you.’  What if my neighbors erect chicken coops in their side yards, mear feet from my yard, my fence, my family having a nice dinner on the patio on some hot August night with the wind wafting through Evanston? The ‘effect" will be to smell a hen house with chicken poop, and to hear the constant clucking that chickens make, have you ever actually been around chickens or are your comments from the few South Evanston residents who have become enamered with this "sustainability initiative?" most of these people have only read blog sites, have ony seen a video or two, but the truth of this disaster will be when the neighbors actually smell what it’s like to be ten feet away from a chicken coop and how difficult it will be to sell your home if your neighbors have chicken coops in their yards and chickens walking around clucking all day and night. i wouldnt buy that house, would you? 

  3. It’s not the “Stupid” that bothers me most-

    It’s the cost of being politically correct and "GREEN", the new buzzword for the decade.

    Cost of license: $50. Is that annually? One time? Per Coop? Per chicken?  License them and tag like dogs or cats? 

    How much to build a coop that fits the city’s design and other standards?  Heat it in winter? Cool it for the hottest days of summer? How much does it cost per chicken? 

    What are the associated costs of vets, feed, fencing, rodent control?

    Now look at the cost of a dozen organic eggs at Evanston’s most expensive markets. Those home-grown eggs are going to cost more, not only in the directs costs to produce them, but associated costs that everyone else must pay: Who pays for the salary of the Chicken Inspector (nice job title, huh?) to inspect the coops, the chickens. Who pays for the administrative overhead?

    So, for those that really want to enjoy "green eggs", try to remember that it’s not coming with ham but plenty of political pork.

    1. Chicken ordinance is no cost to the city

      Charon,  The chicken ordinance won’t cost the city a cent.

      The $50 fee covers the coop license.  There is no need to renew it, although it does not stay with the property if the property is sold.

      The coop will be an "Accessory Structure" under the zoning code and will be governed by the standards for any other Accessory Structure.

      As for the costs to build a coop, feed, etc…, that will be up to the individual applicant.  It’s a private matter.  Your comparison with costs to organic eggs isn’t really relevant.  People will be able to figure that on their own.

      There is no additional administrative overhead that is not covered by the license fee.

      Animal Control will be resonsible for dealing with violations.  But that is not a change from the practice before the ordinance was passed.  Animal Control gets occasional calls about chickens, but they are far less numerous than calls about dogs.  There is no evidence to suggest that this will change.

      I know it is hard to resist the urge to deploy food/farm analogies when writing about chickens, but there is no "political pork" here.  This is just a minor change to the animal ordinance.  It is really not a big deal and won’t affect the general quality of life in the city.


      You may think it’s "stupid," but since the chicken ordinance is written in such a way as to insure no impact on neighboring properties, the actual practice of chicken-keeping won’t affect you. 

  4. Chickens

    I don’t think the back and forth, negative, back biting comments helps anyone. What I am horrified by is the process our City Council persons undertook in getting to a "yes" vote in favor of backyard chickens.

    Remember, the Human Services Committee voted 3-1 against allowing backyard chickens. The Council persons heard from physicians who detailed the significant health risks that chickens posed.

    All those comments fell on deaf ears, the Council persons had made up their minds!

    They chose to not listen to the overwhelming percentage of the City of Evanston population who was against allowing your neighborrs to have chickens, perhaps ten feet away from your lot line or fence.

    I know for sure that not one Council person surveyed their Wards to get their actual feelings, my Alderman, Jane Grover, was so focused  on getting this passed that she didnt ask for any Ward residents what they actually thought.

    Shame on you Jane, we live in a Democracy, and i can assure you, there is not one Ward resident in your Ward that is favor this allowing backyard chickens. This initiative is all about the personal politically correct viewpoints of our Green Council persons!

    I feel that subjecting these chickens to an existence of living in a penned up coop, in freezing winter conditions and 100 degree summers is beyond inhumane, all so a few green feel gooders can get cheap eggs is short sighted. What’s next, goats for goat’s milk? cows for organic milk?

    1. There is no health threat from chickens

      Green Citizen,

      Yes, the Human Services Committee voted against overturning the prohibition on chickens, but the testimony from two physicians associated with Northwestern Unversity and Univ. Chicago med school was that there was NO HEALTH THREAT FROM CHICKENS.

      In fact, one supporter–Alderman Rainey–explicitly acknowledged the physician’s testimony in her statement prior to voting for the measure.


      Anyone concerned with this ordinance should note that the city’s nuisance ordinance still remains in place.  Thus, if chickens are making too much noise that it bothers you, if the property owner is negligent with regard to maintenance, call the city.

  5.  Wow! These comments suggest

     Wow! These comments suggest a lot of anger and hostility and strong opinions about the alleged awfulness of chickens. How much objective data is there about raising chickens anyway?

    And, i imagine that most folks aren’t going to be turning Evanston into Green Acres. How many eggs can you eat anyway?

    1. Chickens

      Hey Evanston residents, so it’s been almost 10 years since this ordinance was adopted.  Any feedback from either side?  I would love to hear them.  Thanks!

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