Brookfielder calls fowl on hen ban

Village board to tackle backyard chickens on July 25

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By BOB UPHUES

Alana Waters-Piper has fond memories of growing up in Galveston, Texas and her interaction with nature as a kid.

"My dad didn't raise me with doom and gloom," she said last week at her home on Prairie Avenue in Brookfield, where she and her family have lived for the past year.

"He took us canoeing, fishing. I kept bunnies and lizards. I grew up being really engaged with nature. As an adult it's my happiest place to be."

 These day's Waters-Piper is happy when she's outside tending to her three chickens - a pair of Rhode Island Reds and one Buff Orpington - which spend most of their time in and around the coop she's erected in the backyard.

Her choice of pets hasn't made everyone happy, and it'll be the subject of a discussion item at the village's board's committee of the whole meeting on July 25 at 6:30 p.m. at the Brookfield Village Hall, 8820 Brookfield Ave.

Waters-Piper is trying to drum up support via a website she's created (www.brookfieldchickens.blogspot.com) where the advertising associate creative director is waging her "Bring Backyard Hens to Brookfield" campaign.

At least one neighbor has called to complain about the setup at Waters-Piper's home, according to Assistant Village Manager Keith Sbiral, who also serves as the village's code director. And the village itself has twice visited Waters-Piper's home in the past year to leave local ordinance violation tickets, ordering her to remove the chickens from her property, she says.

"Chickens are not allowed in Brookfield," said Sbiral, although the village hasn't pursued the complaints against Waters-Piper.

Waters-Piper doesn't think Sbiral's correct, and a look at the village's ordinance dealing with livestock and fowl shows that the answer is a bit murky.

The law states that "it shall be unlawful for any person to keep, harbor, possess or maintain within the village any horse, cow, mule, goat, hog or other animal commonly classified as livestock."

Whether chickens qualify as livestock seems to be the main point of contention. Waters-Piper says chickens aren't livestock. In any case, they aren't specifically mentioned in the ordinance, except to note that "it shall be unlawful for any person to permit ... chickens ... to run at large within the village."

And that's not happening on Prairie Avenue, says Waters-Piper. She bought her chickens as pullets (about a month old) at a feed store in Summit and keeps them either in their coop or just outside the coop in an enclosed area next to the garage. The ground is covered with a layer of pea gravel, where waste is washed into the ground.

Sbiral, who said he's not against the idea of backyard hens per se, said he asked both Village Manager Riccardo Ginex and Village President Michael Garvey for a moratorium on enforcing the village's existing code in order to address the issue directly at an open meeting.

"We've got to do some research on it," Sbiral said. "The whole urban agriculture thing is legitimate and has really caught on in the last couple of years."

Several area municipalities, including the city of Chicago, Oak Park, Evanston, and Downers Grove, among others, have passed laws allowing hens to be raised on residential property in recent years. Typically, the laws prohibit roosters (which aren't needed for egg production) and restrict the number of hens any one property can house.

"There's a gray area here that needs to be clarified," said Waters-Piper. "This is really catching on across the country."

Brookfield actually has a proud history of chicken farming. The practice was widespread enough around World War I, according to Brookfield, Illinois: A History that the Brookfield Poultry Association held an annual competition.

And George A. Collins, until 1927, operated a poultry supply business out of a building (still standing) at 3727 Sunnyside Ave., and after that year at 8922 Fairview Ave.

Like Waters-Piper, those raising chickens like not only the connection with nature and a closer connection with the food they eat, they really like the eggs.

"They're brighter yellow, and there's more of a pronounced egg flavor," said her husband, Dave.

And Waters-Piper has been known to share the eggs - her hens lay an egg each a day - with neighbors, which is always a good strategy.

"I have a neighbor who just leaves the empty carton on the front porch when it needs a refill," she said.

While Sbiral thinks backyard hens can work in Brookfield, it's like owning any kind of animal or just owning a home.

"It comes down to personal responsibility, whether it's chickens or dogs or your roof or your grass." said Sbiral. "If you mow the grass, you're a good neighbor. If you throw dog poop over the fence, you're just as bad a neighbor as those who throw their chicken poop over the fence."

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