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.


  1. I am all for people being self sufficient and raising their own food. However, I wouldn’t want my neighbors raising chickens period. Would this help attract more wealthier individuals to settle in Dekalb? I think not. Dekalb’s greater challenge is to get people with money that can pay income tax, property tax, and sales tax to live here. Many are choosing to live to the East and deliberately avoiding Dekalb. We can’t pay for needed services without a tax base.

  2. Those that would not vote for letting people have backyard chickens need to br voted out. That one rude old man in the middle sounds stressed out and he is close minded. He is a relic of the past and lacks forsight as to the way things are changing in the USA. I saw another old minded relic that must go. I hope your voting these people out. They deserve no pitty.

  3. By the way, in the other short-sighted action by the city (having the NIU students removed from the city meeting), one of them was Adam Lopez. Adam’s work at NIU earned him a front page news story on NIU’s Website:

    He is a smart kid who I am sure will be a great success. But, I bet he does not forget how unwelcome the City of DeKalb made him feel.

  4. I watched the debate online, and I found many of the comments by the councilmen voting against the proposal short-sighted and ill informed. Sadly, it was obvious some of them hadn’t taken the time to read up on the measure.

  5. I think the rejection and basically lack of serious consideration of this issue was due to ignorance and lack of logic and reasoning skills on the part of the city council and committee members.

    I talked to a local radio station recently about this issue and when they were discussing the issue on air, they asked the lady who gives the Ag update about her opinion. She was set against having her neighbors raise chickens [she lives near a cow farm] because of all the noise. When the radio host told her that it is the roosters who make all that noise and that they were prohibited in the ordinance, she said that you need to have a rooster with the hens in order to have the hen lay an egg. THIS IS FROM A PERSON IN THE AG INDUSTRY.

    Hannah did a great job in her research and should be commended for all her hard work.

    If we look at a local town like Batavia who passed this ordinance, in the past year they only had 6 people request permits for chickens and only had one complaint to the city. The complaint was not noise or smell but that a chicken got out of the yard and hit by a car.

    Really, Dekalb? I am embarrassed for you.

  6. It would seem that the people asking for the legalizing of chickens in Our Fair City did a decent job of making and supporting their case. And, their treatment by our city government is reprehensible.

    I raised bantam chickens, roosters and all, for years in Long Grove, which is more upscale that is DeKalb. A friend has long raised bantams, other chickens, and various fowl in Streator, which is somewhat less upscale that is DeKalb. I am aware of no issues with neighbors in either of these places. Perhaps if a Fox Valley Developer were to suggest legalizing chickens, our city government would swiftly approve the necessary ordinance changes, and probably even provide TIF funding to upgrade the coops.

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