Lansing trustees not likely to endorse chicken-keeping

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Flouting the current ordinance, chickens occasionally can be seen in Lansing. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
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Five of six express preference for maintaining chicken-free status quo

LANSING, Ill. (August 18, 2022) – The majority of the Lansing Village Board of Trustees indicated they are currently unwilling to amend the Village code to allow chicken-keeping in Lansing.

Trustees shared their opinions during the Committee of the Whole meeting on August 16, after hearing comments from the public and the view of Village Administrator Dan Podgorski.

Background

Chapter 10 of the Village of Lansing code states, “It shall be unlawful for anyone to own, harbor, or permit at large any exotic or wild animal.”

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The code also says, “Wild animal means any live monkey, nonhuman primate, raccoon, skunk, fox, leopard, panther, tiger, lion, lynx, or other warm-blooded animal that can normally be found in the wild state. Chickens, ducks, geese, pigeons, guinea hens, and turkeys shall also be considered wild animals.”

Lansing resident Adam Barker appeared before the Village Board in July and read a prepared statement in favor of removing chickens from the “wild animals” definition, and instead creating an ordinance similar to the honeybee ordinance passed in 2018 that would limit and regulate the practice of chicken-keeping. Barker originally proposed the idea last fall in a public comment at a board meeting.

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Adam Barker reads prepared remarks during the public comment portion of the July 19 Village of Lansing Board of Trustees meeting. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Public comment — in favor of chickens

The first mention of chickens Tuesday night came during the public comment portion of the regular Village Board meeting. Barker led off the commenters.

“I really believe every issue opposing the change [of Village ordinances to allow chicken-keeping] that I’ve heard isn’t actually an issue with chickens. It’s an issue with either code enforcement or bad neighbors — both of which can be resolved if we have a thorough ordinance,” Barker said.

“I intend to follow the rules,” said pro-chicken resident Amanda Spaulding, later emphasizing the importance of maintaining a clean chicken coop.

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The pro-chicken crowd chats before Tuesday night’s Village Board meeting. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Roger Brooks, also in favor of the change, indicated chicken-keeping would help kids learn responsibility and connect with nature: “For me, it’s really important to teach my children that there is a whole operation going on behind the scenes that lets all this food and all this great stuff come to us.”

Rene Grados, another commenter in favor of chicken-keeping, said having chickens to lay eggs would help her feed her large family. She also said, “It is our right to be able to feed ourselves. God placed the food on this earth for us to provide for ourselves and our families.”

Public comment — against chickens

Interspersed with the four commenters who spoke in favor of chicken-keeping, two spoke against changing the ordinance.

“When I purchased my home in Lansing,” said Debra Lightfoot, “I purchased to come to a nice suburban community to raise my son. I did not purchase in a rural area where I want chickens, roosters, or any other animals.” She described her experience living across the street from people who did not take care of their chickens: “The flies, the stench, was horrible. … This to me would be yet another ordinance that you’d have to fight with people to keep.”

Lightfoot’s neighbor, who lives next door to the people who owned the chickens, said, “It was a disaster,” citing fire hazards and winter conditions as concerns. “There’s so many cons to this. It’s gonna cause a lot of problems. It’s not gonna work out well.” In a conversation after the meeting this neighbor explained that the chickens have been removed, but following the code enforcement process took multiple calls to the Village.

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Two Lansing residents who had a bad experience with neighborhood chickens attended the August 16 meeting to voice their concerns. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Village Administrator

After the regular Board meeting ended, an agenda item under the Village Administrator’s report in the Committee of the Whole meeting read, “Proposed change to Chapter 10 of the Lansing Municipal Code regarding animals.”

Administrator Dan Podgorski thanked the public commenters for sharing their opinions. He also mentioned a trip he took last winter with Barker to a chicken-keeping property in Highland, Indiana, to familiarize himself with the issue.

“The recommendation at this point is to leave chickens in the definition of wild animals and to not make a change,” Podgorski said, “We’re a suburban community, not a farming community. We don’t have a lot of room near our houses. … I’m sure some people would take care of the chickens and be really good stewards of the coops, and others might not, but I think the thought is that we’re set up as more of a suburban community, not a farming community.”

Village trustees

All six village trustees spoke on the issue:

Mike Fish — Trustee Fish said he watched YouTube videos to educate himself on chicken-keeping, and received emails from Lansing residents about the issue. “The way I feel right now, I want to keep the ordinance the way it is. … Like the administrator says, this is a suburban town, not a rural town. Years ago it might have been, but the people on the north end of town, their lots are real close to each other. And personally, I would not want a chicken coop next to me.”

Brian Hardy — Trustee Hardy also said he had done significant research online, and had heard only positive messages from residents about changing the ordinance. He also brought an ordinance from Homewood, where chicken-keeping is allowed. “I’m for a proper ordinance and proper maintaining of the coop, proper animal control coming in and watching it, maybe limiting it to 20-25 coops,” he said. “There might be something where you need to get an ‘OK’ from a neighbor on both sides.”

Hardy
Brian Hardy was the lone Village Trustee to voice support for a change to the current ordinance in order to allow residential chicken-keeping. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Jerry Zeldenrust — Citing his experience working with chickens, Trustee Zeldenrust talked about some of the details of chicken keeping, including problems with droppings. He also expressed a concern about how busy Lansing’s code enforcement officials already are: “I can’t imagine putting an additional burden on our code enforcement folks, or our animal control folks, or the police department responding to additional calls of one nuisance or another that might be generated inadvertently by chicken keeping. I’m not in favor of having it in the village. … It has to be in the right place, and I don’t believe the village limits are the right place.”

Saad Abbasy — Trustee Abbasy said he did not have a strong opinion against or for chicken-keeping in Lansing after talking with residents and doing research. “Because I don’t have a strong opinion against or for, my stance is that I’ll support the administration’s direction on this and not push for a change in the ordinance,” he said.

Leo Valencia — Trustee Valencia mentioned his experience working with chickens “for over 15 years in the egg pasteurization business” before sharing his opinion: “My biggest concern with the chickens is the additional work it will put on our code enforcement,” he said. “Maybe chickens are good for Lansing, but I have to say at this point, I don’t think they are.”

Micaela Smith — Mentioning research done online, Smith said she’d also talked with residents about the issue, but still needed more education on it. “Right now, I think there’s just not enough — I’m with Trustee Abbasy on knowing more about it — to be a solid pro or solid con for it. But right now, I don’t think that Lansing is the village to carry chicken coops right now.”

Following the discussion, Podgorski said, “It appears that we have a majority not in favor of making a change.”

He said the “Proposed change to Chapter 10 of the Lansing Municipal Code regarding animals” would still appear on the September 6 agenda, but the proposed changes would be to remove animals like “sheep, horses, cattle, and goats” from the definition of “domestic animals” and move them to the “wild animals” category.

Reaction

Many of the same public commenters spoke again at the conclusion of the Committee of the Whole meeting, doubling down on their original comments and referencing comments made by trustees. Some stayed after the meeting to talk with trustees.

Barker remains hopeful that further education will convince more trustees to consider changing the ordinance at least for a trial period. He believes he can offer solutions for every objection raised.

The next Village Board meeting is scheduled for September 6 at 7 p.m. at the Lansing Courthouse, located at 2710 170th Street.

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