Still no chickens in Lansing, but why?

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Local Voices

Adam Barker

Last November I presented a petition signed by over 100 Lansing residents to the Lansing Board of Trustees, asking them to revise the code of ordinances to allow for responsible residential chicken keeping in Lansing. Along with the petition I provided examples of ordinances from other towns that allow chicken-keeping, as well as a sample of what a revised ordinance for Lansing could look like.

Since then, I and many others have continued to voice our appeal to the administration. We’ve sent countless emails and been present at board meetings. We’ve also done more research into the issue, which I humbly present to you:

Sound

The idea that chickens are noisy is an easily disprovable misconception. Simple research shows that the noise level of hens is around 65 decibels, which is similar to that of a conversation between humans. For reference, the bark of a dog — of which there are likely over a thousand registered in Lansing (1,841 dogs + cats) — can reach 90 decibels.

Smell

The idea that chickens necessarily produce foul odors is also an easily disprovable misconception. They poop, and their poop smells, just like yours and mine and each of the 1,000+ dogs in Lansing. But it won’t smell if it’s cleaned up. Bad smells associated with chickens are due to lack of ventilation and excess moisture in coops, both of which can be easily mitigated with a decent ordinance, a bit of enforcement, and responsible chicken keepers.

Complaints

Chickens aren’t going to be running wild everywhere if they’re allowed. If you build a coop with walls and a door and are a halfway responsible person, they won’t be getting out all the time. There have been 7,845 “at-large” animals complaints in Lansing since 2015 — safe to assume mostly dogs. No need to add to that number.

Complaint statistics from nearby towns that allow chickens are astounding:

  • Evanston, IL: 0 since 2015
  • Homewood, IL: 1 since 2015
  • Riverside, IL: 0 since 2016
  • East Dundee, IL: 0 since 2015
  • Brookfield, IL: 0 since 2011
  • Western Springs, IL: 0 since 2011
  • Deerfield, IL: 0 since 2013
  • Lisle, IL: 0 (since they started allowing chickens in April 2022)
  • Northfield, IL: 11 since 2001
  • Tinley Park, IL: 19 since allowing in 2017 (hey, 4 per year ain’t bad, did I mention the probably-dog stats in Lansing?)

These statistics show that concerns about chickens being a nuisance to neighbors are simply unfounded. In fact, it’s likely that there will be more complaints about chickens if they are illegal than if they’re legal. If the administration is really concerned about chickens being a nuisance to Lansing residents, they should legalize them.

Burden

The stats also show that concerns about the time and effort it would take to enforce a chicken-allowing ordinance are straw men. If the stats hold true, after an initial inspection of the coop and the issuing of the permit, the amount of extra work created will be miniscule. If you really want to lessen the burden on code enforcers, make dogs illegal!

With all that being the case, what’s stopping the administration from allowing even just 5 chicken coops for a trial period? That’s what Deerfield did almost 10 years ago, and their pilot program turned into law when they saw that it had no adverse effects. What’s stopping our administration seems to be nothing, and yet they refuse to budge. In almost a year not a single concern has been raised that there isn’t a simple solution for, and yet our cause has been met with flat-out resistance.

Opposition

Our trustees have said they are opposed based on things like:

  1. Experience working with chickens in a commercial setting (hardly an apples-to-apples comparison with my backyard)
  2. Experience raising chickens in a rural setting (helpful experience to bring to the table, but have you seen my backyard?)
  3. The burden of enforcing the code, which is essentially a non-issue based on the statistics above

The mayor, when asked why she is opposed, cited two personal experiences being around chicken coops that smelled bad even though allegedly being cleaned often. I could go find a coop that smells bad (or a dog for that matter) if I wanted to, but that doesn’t mean mine will smell. At best these personal experiences support the idea of a limited trial period in Lansing. At worst, we’d better get rid of all the smelly dogs, too. (And for the record, I invited the entire administration to come visit my chicken coop on a friend’s property to see an example of one that doesn’t smell, but only one of the opposed accepted my invitation.)

After all, it’s not hard to simply refuse permits to those who don’t do it the right way. Isn’t that how basically all law works? “You can drive a car but if you do it drunk you can’t do it anymore.” You’re free to do this but if you do it in an improper or harmful way you can’t do it anymore? That’s how Homewood does it: “A personal poultry license may be revoked by the village manager for failure to comply with the requirements.” Am I missing something?

Questions

The questions are these:

  • Why should I (and dozens like me) be punished for the irresponsibility of a few others?
  • Why are we being found guilty without trial, without opportunity to prove innocence?
  • Why is the current administration choosing, against all the evidence, to restrict basic rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?
  • And why all this when the readily available facts obviously favor residential chicken-keeping as a community-enhancing endeavor?

What’s most frustrating and troubling about this process is that most of our elected officials have been unwilling to actually engage the facts of the matter with me or anyone else. They’ve responded to our emails, but only with niceties and what seem like prepared statements: “I’m concerned about the smell,” “Lansing is not a rural community,” etc. When pressed on these things — “But smell won’t be an issue if we do this well,” and “Why exactly does it matter that we’re not rural?” — they go silent.

Most recently, the administration has communicated, “This issue is closed.” The question is, was it ever really open in the first place? If it was, what about the mountain of evidence we’ve built? Why hasn’t it been considered?

Some will say, “It has, but a different conclusion was found,” but like a good teacher I’ll respond to that with, “Okay, show me your work.” Don’t just tell me that you came to a different conclusion, show me how you did. As tax-paying citizens invested in the good of this community, that’s the least we deserve.

We have provided simple solutions backed up by hard data for every concern raised. Why do we still not have chickens in Lansing?

Adam Barker, Lansing resident


Local Voices is our version of “Letters to the Editor.” The opinions posted here are those of the writers, and posting them does not indicate endorsement by The Lansing Journal. We welcome input from fellow residents who have thoughtful things to say about topics that are important to our community. Send your submissions to The Lansing Journal with “Voices” in the subject line.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you Adam for a well presented case. I would love to see chickens in Lansing. A trial period is a great idea! Perhaps the issue could be put on the ballot at an upcoming election and the general population could vote on it.

  2. I agree regarding the smelly dogs. We had neighbors who didn’t clean their big dogs poop & in summer it wafts over to our yard. Very stinky & noisy at times. Many dogs get out of their yards running loose. I’m constantly getting ring alerts on my phone for loose dogs. I think it’s unfair how they have shut the door on this issue. Not like everyone in Lansing is going to be doing this.

  3. I am agreeing with the dogs issue. We have neighbors with multiple dogs that are kept outside annually that are noisy and smelly. There are hours DAILY that I cannot enjoy my property an neighborhood especially due to the incessant barking. The same neighbors have more dogs in their garage and in their house. Is there an ordinance in Lansing on how many dogs a resposible homeowner can have? Plus, thanks to Adam Barker’s detailed commentary. The noise from chickens is not as intense as it is from several dogs left unattended for hours as I try to experience the freedom of enjoying my yard and neighborhood.

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