When someone tells you that DeKalb is the most liberal spending community in DeKalb County they might be right. Name another city that borrowed $1.5 million to lay off employees? But if anyone tells you DeKalb is progressive tell them this story.

DeKalb resident Hannah Dwyer wanted to raise chickens, for their eggs, at her home within the city limits. That is not currently allowed in the barbed wire city but rumors of illegal chicken owners do exist. Dwyer wanted to do things right so she began on a citizen initiative to allow up to five hens per household in DeKalb.

In her own words:

There are numerous advantages in allowing citizens the right to raise their own eggs. In an age where food recalls are becoming more and more common, giving people more control over what they eat is something to consider. While raising your chickens yourself doesn’t guarantee complete food safety, basic hygiene and handling can ensure safe eggs. There is even a simple way to pasteurize eggs at home with nothing more than boiling water, for those who are concerned with the safety of backyard eggs. Citizens would no longer be at the mercy of food regulators and large companies for safe eggs, with a little common sense people can produce safe, delicious eggs while enjoying a fun and enriching hobby.

Dwyer did her due diligence. She talked with her neighbors for their concerns and suggestions. She met with her alderman and approached city staff with a written proposal including supporting documents. More than 400 residents signed her petition showing community wide support. She attended and presented at the various commissions and committees of the City of DeKalb.

It was not an impulse action. Regulations in Dwyer’s proposal included:

  • Chicken owners can’t sell their hen’s eggs
  • They could not slaughter them for meat
  • No mature roosters
  • Chickens must be penned in
  • The pen must be regularly cleaned so it will not smell (Fines and forfeiture enforcement)
  • Apartments and very small properties would be prohibited from owning hens

Large cities like Madison, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Seattle, Houston, and Miami allow hens in their city limits. In Illinois nearby cities (often used in comparable studies) such as Naperville, St. Charles and Batavia allow them.

Neither the Citizens Environmental Commission or the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission could come to a consensus for or against Dwyer’s proposal.

So how was Dwyer’s initiative treated by the mayor and city council?

It was rejected in Committee of the Whole before the regular city council meeting.

Kristen Lash (3rd ward) and Brendon Gallagher (4th ward) supported the effort. Lash said she got more calls on this issue than all others combined and most were in support. Gallagher said a petition with more than 400 signatures was reason to consider the proposal and pointed out the council has pursued other ordinances on the urging of groups as small as 10 residents.

Monica O’Leary voted against considering Dwyer’s proposal in Committee of the Whole. One more vote of support and the matter would have received the three votes necessary to meet the standard of consensus required for full city council deliberation. She later tried to reconsider her vote but her request was promptly ignored. The explanations given to squelch the initiative (Baker, Naylor, Teresinski and Povlsen)  were laughable if not disturbing.

The city is aggressively pursuing new ordinances for stricter regulations on housing, especially of the rental kind, but council members say the City struggles to enforce existing codes and that adding hens would only increase the lack of enforcement. What could hens do to the quality of life, business attraction, health and smell of the city that’s home to Northern Illinois University?

Don’t you know that smell? That smell of Naperville around you?

Lord knows what those frat boys might do with those chickens.

A more considerate council would have given Dwyer’s initiative full consideration to grant her the right of rebuttal and perhaps even the public could have weighed in on the matter.

About Mac McIntyre

Mac McIntyre has more than 30 years experience in the multi-media industry working as a freelance writer, graphic designer, broadcast and television production and publisher/editor. He has been designing and maintaining websites, including this one, since 1997.
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