By Bob Uphues
You can't raise chickens or keep bees in Riverside — legally at least — right now. But a small group of residents are pushing for the village to allow beekeeping and raising chickens, saying both are in line with the village's commitment to sustainable practices.
And the village's board of trustees responded on Feb. 18 by directing village staff to begin seeking out information on how other municipalities handle bees and chickens and drafting an ordinance that could be the subject of a hearing before the Riverside Planning and Zoning Commission later this spring.
The discussion actually had its genesis in the village's response to a couple of recent violations of Riverside's code regarding the keeping of bees and chickens.
In January, the village's Building Department wrote letters to two Riverside residents who were in violation of the code prohibiting raising chickens and keeping bees. That followed on the heels of a couple of complaints in recent years that couldn't be verified, according to Sonya Abt, the village's community development director.
While neither of the two residents cited by the village's building inspector attended the Feb. 18 meeting of the village board, a handful of like-minded residents took up the torch that night to advocate for allowing chickens and bee hives within Riverside's borders.
"This is not something that's going to go away," said Jennifer Fournier. "This is something that is gaining momentum, so whether we decide to deal with it now or in two years or five years, it's going to come back."
Kimber Coombes, another Riverside resident, said that changing the law to allow bees and chickens was a "great opportunity" and wouldn't result in a proliferation of bee hives in the village. And while she said she understood why some might be reluctant to allow the change, she felt a carefully crafted law would protect everyone.
"I think we have to be thoughtful about our ordinances," Coombes said.
Certainly in recent years, more and more communities have changed the rules regarding bees and chickens. The village board of Riverside's next-door neighbor to the west, Brookfield, voted to allow raising chickens in 2011.
North Riverside technically allows raising chickens, though the law is written in such a way that it would be very difficult for most homeowners to do so.
Other suburban Chicago municipalities allowing raising chickens, bees or both include Oak Park, Clarendon Hills, Evanston, Downers Grove, Naperville, Western Springs and Westmont.
Oak Park has allowed raising chickens since 2002, but village board voted to allow beekeeping in 2011, limiting residential properties to two hives each.
While homeowners in Oak Park don't need a permit to raise chickens, beehives need a permit from the village's Department of Public Health. Mike Charley, Oak Park's interim health director, said that in 2015 there were five beekeeping permits issued in the village, which has a population of about 52,000.
Since the ban on beekeeping was repealed in 2011, said Charley, his office hasn't received a single complaint about the practice. Since 2002, the department has received seven "service requests" about chickens, ranging from complaints about noise and neighbors raising too many birds to chickens running loose in the neighborhood.
"In general, though, we've been able to resolve all those issues in a timely manner with the owners' cooperation," Charley said.
Debbie Becker, an Oak Park resident, has raised bees in her backyard since 2012. The two hives have generated between 24 and 70 pounds of honey annually, most of which she gives away to family members, neighbors and friends.
At first, Becker said she was worried about how her neighbors might react to the presence of two beehives next door. But after talking with them and making sure the hives were positioned properly on the lot, there hasn't been a problem.
"I was really nervous, but my neighbors were great," Becker said.
Becker is employed at Wednesday Journal, Inc., the parent company of The Landmark.